November 1st, 2010

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

AWARE contributes to human rights submission to UN by local NGOs

Universal Periodic Review

Universal Periodic Review

A loose and informal grouping of local civil society organisation, including AWARE, has made a 10-page submission to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

This process, launched by the UN in 2006, involves a review of the human rights record of all UN member states once every four years. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The review covers the five categories of human rights – civil, political, social, cultural and economic.

Singapore will be up for review in May 2011. After the civil society stakeholders submit their reports, the Government will subsequently issue its report. The materials are then considered by a working group of the Council and points are discussed with the state and other parties, after which a report and recommendations will be made.

The UPR is similar to the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) process, except that the UPR deals with all aspects of human rights . AWARE has been involved in the CEDAW process since 2004.

CEDAW is one of several human rights review processes initiated by the UN, with the UPR serving as an over-arching mechanism. The aim of the UPR, says the UN, is to remind states “of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Women’s rights are, of course, an important part of human rights. Since AWARE is already a participant in the UN human rights process through CEDAW, taking part in the coalition of Singapore NGOs for UPR was a logical next step.

On women’s rights, the UPR submission points out that while progress has been made there remain areas where women in Singapore face discrimination and other obstacles. It notes that Article 12 (2) of Singapore’s Constitution prohibits discrimination on certain grounds but excludes gender.

The recommendations made in the submission on women’s rights include:

  • repeal the partial marital rape immunity that remains in force in the Penal Code
  • amend Article 12(2) of the Constitution, to bar discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexuality
  • implement stronger protections for pregnant women against discriminatory employment practices
  • offer citizenship as of right to foreign women who are married to Singaporean men
  • update Singapore’s definition of trafficking to conform to international norms
  • review the application of inheritance laws to Muslim women.

The first four-year UPR cycle began in 2008. In the follow-up reviews during the second UPR cycle, from 2012 to 2015, the focus will be on the implementation of the recommendations made during the first cycle.

The civil society organisations that made the submission, apart from AWARE, are: Challenged People’s Alliance and Network (CAN!); Deaf and Hard of Hearing Federation; Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics; MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore); People Like Us; Singaporeans for Democracy; and Transient Workers Count Too. MARUAH coordinated the effort

The UPR Report submitted by the civil society organisations can be downloaded from MARUAH’s website at

For more information about the UPR: Basic Facts.

Key Documents:

In The News:


What is the UPR?


CNA Report on Press Conference


  1. Chris

    It is disappointing to see that Aware’s contribution to these recommendations completely omits the serious human rights abuse of cruel and unusual punishment in the form of caning of men and boys. It also fails to recognize that this is also severe discrimination based solely on gender and therefore inequality before the law between genders. As Aware states, woman’s rights are also human rights.
    Almost every single country in the UN sees it this way, why not Singapore and why not its woman’s groups.

  2. Jenny

    Chris makes a very good point. If Singaporean women are to be equal to men, then female criminals will also be liable to be caned unless the Singaporean Government abolishes caning altogether. I’m surprised such blatant sex discrimination appears to have gone unnoticed.

  3. admin

    There is certainly a human right issue here but to argue it from a gender perspective would be to imply that we want this practice extended to include women in the name of equity as opposed to being abolished completely.

  4. Jenny

    If you want the practice abolished completely, why not say so? Calls to amend Article 12(2) of the Constitution, to bar discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexuality, gives no indication one way or the other. The practice of only caning male criminals, and not female criminals, is clearly a case of discrimination on the basis of sex so calls to end sex discrimination can equally mean you want female criminals caned too.

  5. Keerthi

    @Admin . No, arguing this brutality from both a violation of UN conventions regarding cruel treatment and from gender discrimination is important since men and boys are being mistreated from both perspectives. The implication is that this sadistic practice should be stopped by all sides. If it were the other way round I think AWARE would be very vocal.

    This upcoming review of Singapore at the UN is a golden opportunity that should not be missed by AWARE to address this extreme violation of boys and men from both UN contraventions on cruelty AND on discrimination.

    Its a question of credibility .Recently when a woman was to be caned in Malaysia(the Sharia type very very very mild compared to judicial caning of boys), AWARE and other groups were up in arms sighting contravention of Human Rights etc AND discrimination. So strong was this outcry that her sentence was commuted.

    Hundreds of boys and men are caned severely even for small infractions every month in Changi prison.

    It would be fitting, no a duty, for a group with power such as AWARE to make an equal appeal to the up coming UN proposal for Singapore. This is both a human rights issue and serious gender issue affecting our bothers, sons and fathers. Womens rights are human rights.

    The argument that women don’t commit these crimes and are therefore untouchable is irrelevant and not true. A weeks read of The Straits would show this.

    BTW Amending the marital rape laws should of course be supported by AWARE but only if human rights are also upheld. That is, only on the grounds that those convicted will not be subject to the torture of caning. Hopefully the barbaric laws of caning will be abolished by then anyway.

  6. GrimaH

    You could always create the men’s counterpart for AWARE for that sort of thing.

    It’s not exactly AWARE’s responsiblity to champion the cause for discrimination in caning against men, especially when the only one who’s been so upset about it so far is the one poster here.

    AWARE can use its power to help support the abovementioned men’s rights group, if it is created, but it ultimately rests upon us males to support that cause.

    • Jenny

      Which “one poster” are you referring too? There appears to be three of us calling for an end to sex discrimination in the judicial system.

      If AWARE truly wants equality of the sexes, it cannot afford to ignore sex discrimination: even where such discrimination apparently benefits women. I presume AWARE is also calling for an end to National Service – or is it calling for women to be given the benefit of being drafted too?

      Sex discrimination adversely affects us all. Women, ultimately, suffer the backlash of ostensibly anti-male discrimination.

      As Keerthi says, it’s a question of credibility. By calling for an end to sex discrimination, but then attempting to pick and choose which discriminatory practices it wants to end and those it wants to keep, AWARE loses credibility in the eyes of the World and thus harms its own cause. Does AWARE want equality of the sexes or not? I think that needs to be clarified.

  7. admin

    So everyone understands the process behind the UPR report, AWARE was one of 8 civil society organisations invited to work on the UPR report. It was co-ordinated by MARUAH. We took charge of the women’s section, as that is our area of expertise, and other groups worked on other sections. AWARE stands for gender equality. Neither men nor women deserve to suffer from caning. Our stand is not that this practice be extended to include women, but rather that caning be abolished completely.

    • Chris

      Thank you for clarifying where AWARE stands on this human rights issue. Hopefully AWARE will make its voice loud and clear at the UN. All too often mens rights are not considered if women are not affected.

  8. buiques

    Yes absolutely. thank you ADMIN for explaining how UPR works. I didn’t realise this report was done by several different groups. SO AWARE only took charge of the womens issues… I see.

    I agree, it’s better to remove caning for both men and women.

    I’m glad that we have startedsthe conversation about Human Rights It’s a first and it’s great that civil society groups are working together and co-operating like this.

  9. Jenny

    I hope all the organizations involved are properly coordinating their efforts. The great danger of removing sex discrimination, by itself, is that it leaves women open to the same human rights abuses as only men currently suffer. For example, does AWARE want women conscripted into the armed forces, so as to be equal to men, or does it want conscription abolished to achieve equality? As we can see, some sex discrimination works in women’s favour so, if we want equality with men, it’s in our own interest to first ensure men have the same rights and protections as we do. Be very careful what you ask for.

    • Chris

      “if we want equality with men, it’s in our own interest to first ensure men have the same rights and protections as we do” ………..Jenny, you are absolutely correct.
      Many women’s organizations, often so keen on their agenda, fail to recognize that sometimes men are discriminated against while women want special status. This leads to lack of support, especially from men, due to lack of credibility.

  10. John

    The Woman’s Charter when enacted was necessary to move toward equality, but in the process it is becoming more evident today that men in Singaporean society are bcoming more of the “second class” variety. Take national service for instance. I recently read of a sad story where a young man who was studying abroad had to return for this service interrupting his professional education. Upon return to university, he would be two years behind his international counterparts, as well as Singaporean female contemporaries. What does he get for this….nothing, but low pay and a delay in earning a living once his degree is attained. Should this duty not be shared by all citizens?….or should it be a volunteer occupation for whoever wants to serve? And caning is well documented. In this regard, there is no equal justice under the law. While I understand AWARE is against caning, why isn’t there a more aggressive response to ban it. Men will never regard women as equal if they do not bear equal responsibilities. Singapore is at least two or three generations behind the rest of the world in this regard. A more even-handed campaign by AWARE would greatly add to its credibiity as it strives for equality.

  11. Chris

    John, you are correct to question the lack of reaction to the violation of Singaporean men in this way. At the top of this Article it was stated that various human rights groups made a joint submission for the coming UN review and that AWARE was part of this submission. It would have been expected that, if not AWARE , some other group, would pick up on the violation of men and boys.

    I have found the joint submission from COSINGO linked from this site and NOWHERE in it did I find any reference to the brutality that is suffered by thousands of men and boys every year (6404 in 2007). The submission speaks to many things including Gay rights , people with disabilties etc., but nothing on cruel and unusual punishment and torture of men and boys.

    The submission by AWARE reporting on women’s issues makes reference to countries like the UK and Sweden in its requests for similar women’s policies. These countries have gender equality and full and equal protection for men and women from bodily violations such as caning. Here basic rights should be addressed first and foremost.

    The silence from these rights groups on this matter is astounding. It is very clear that men in this region have no voice and no representation, it appears even neutral human rights groups are women focused mostly. I think men here need help as a disadvantaged and stereotyped group.