CNM-CARE Conference: Communication Interventions- Imagining Futures


Building on the theme “Communicating for social change” of the 2014 conference of the Center for Culture-centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), the 2018 CARE conference foregrounds the role of communication in intervening into structures. Examining the ways in which structures organise social, cultural, political and economic systems, the theme Communication Interventions works theoretically, methodologically, and practically with the role of communication in catalysing, enabling, and implementing transformations. The various panels and keynote speeches in the conference attend to the diversity of theoretical modes through which communication intervenes into the world. The intersections of academia, activism, and community, the inter-plays among them, and the bridges that connect them, are explored in depth through the sessions. Panels showcasing CARE interventions attend to the conceptual terrains in which culturally-centering communication builds communication infrastructures from the margins. Workshops on specific elements of methods, collaborations, and publishing complement the theory-practice linkages that flow throughout the conference.

Conference Dates: 7 May – 10 May 2018
Conference Venue: Faculty of Arts and Social Science, National University of Singapore, Block AS6, #03-38, CNM Playroom

Registration is Free. Meals are not provided.
Register Online Now at:


Monday, 7 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
10:00 am to 11:30 am Sreekumar T. T Opening Keynote: The Politics of the Cyborg: Some Thoughts on the Posthuman Debates
Newly emerging concepts around the notion of cybernetic organism or cyborg challenge some of the conventional ideas about what it means to be human. An exploration of its manifold dimensions and its crucial impact on our political paradigms appear to be important in the multiple contexts of the wider social, cultural and philosophical questions that the debate has engendered. Particularly significant is the complexities of its rejection and/or reception from the perspective of social liberation. Cyborg takes us directly into the center of the debate of the posthuman, with important consequences for practicing philosophy of science in a conformist sense. This paper discusses some of the pertinent issues in this debate from both historical and political perspectives.
11:30 am to 12:30 pm Jeremey Fernando, Liew Khai Khiun, Alex Mitchell Panel 1: Community And Interventions
Social Media and the affective digitalized communications of Animal Welfare in Singapore
Dr Liew Kai Khiun, Nanyang Technological UniversityAbstract: This topic seeks to discuss the pivotal role in which social media has played in platforming the presence of animal welfare and rights advocacy in Singapore. Until the recent decade, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (SPCA), a venerable NGO established from the colonial era shouldered predominately issues on animal rights and welfare in Singapore, considered as the most disadvantaged and marginalized of social groups.  Already severely stretched as an animal shelter, the SPCA’s lobbying efforts were limited in the face of the changing socio-cultural dynamics in Singapore as the agrarian economy of the postcolonial city-state urbanized rapidly. Some issues cover that of the archaic practice of systematic culling of strays displaced by infrastructure projects and reactions to epidemics, lax laws and enforcement in dealing with trafficking, abuse and neglect of animals from the booming pet industry, as well as the prohibition of ownership of cats and larger breeds of dogs in public housing estates. The 2010s have witnessed the emergence of a spectrum of registered and private groups in Singapore into the care and advocacy for animals in the republic. Classified commonly as Animal Welfare Groups (AWG) with new players and agendas on specific domestic animals and wildlife.  In many respects, the internet and social media of especially Facebook have given activists and volunteers the critical public platforms in social mobilization through efforts of fundraising, providing even real time information for rescue and rehoming of individual animals, monitoring of individuals and institutions involved in commercial and regulatory bodies, and public advocacy for legislative reforms.  Based also on the author’s personal involvement in AWG work for several years, the staging of animal welfare issues in social media brings out novel perspectives of affective digitalized communications by social movements in emotionalizing and amplifying the otherwise silenced non-human subjects.

Resisting Art
Jeremy Fernando

Abstract: In this performance-talk, I will attempt to respond to a call from Mohan Dutta to speak on, to write about, the possibility of art as resistance — that is, to meditate on the possible relationship between resistance and art. Whilst doing so, I will also try to attend to the notion that art is an encounter — between one and something that is brought forth in the movement from craft to something other than what is created through tekhnē. And, if so, it is always also potentially unknown, unknowable, until it happens, perhaps even after it happens. That, even as it might be experienced, felt — an encounter through aisthesis — it is quite possibly a moment beyond cognition; un pas au-delà, as it were. And if so, then perhaps all attempts to know it potentially do nothing other than to frame, to confine, its potentiality.Thus, perhaps the very thing that one has to do — if one is to attempt to maintain the possibility of resistance in art — is to resist what one thinks is art itself.

Playing with Interactivity as a Poetic Device
Alex Mitchell

Abstract: Increasingly, we are experiencing a world mediated by digital media. There is a constant need to reassess the information we are presented with, and to understand the computational systems that we are using and are being used by every day. Examples include the often unexpected suggestions received from the autocorrect function on our smartphones, and the automatically “curated” information presented in our Facebook feed, both of which are driven by underlying algorithms that adapt to our actions. These complex underlying systems tend to remain invisible and uncontested. Building upon Shklovsky’s notion of defamiliarization, I will use a series of examples to argue that interactive stories, games and interactive art, by making unfamiliar those aspects of the systems that we have come to take for granted, can help us to pay attention to, critically reflect on, and potentially make sense of this complexity.

12:30 pm to 1:30 pm Lunch
1:30 pm to 3:00 pm Debbie Dougherty, Editor, Journal of Applied Communication Research Panel 2: Publishing Applied Communication ScholarshipAbstract: In this presentation, Professor Debbie Dougherty, Professor of Communication at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the Editor of the journal Journal of Applied Communication Research will be sharing the process of transforming applied communication interventions into scholarship. Drawing on her own engaged scholarship on sexual harassment that has shaped global conversations on workplace policies against sexual harassment as well as on her key role as the editor of the field’s key journal for publishing applied scholarship, Professor Dougherty will share the challenges with publishing applied scholarship, the key qualities of good applied communication scholarship, and the ways in which challenges to publishing may be addressed by engaged scholars.
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Asha Pandi, Anuradha Rao, Dazzelyn Zapata Panel 3: Creating Digital SpacesState Power, Civil Society and Political Activism in Malaysia
Asha Rathina Pandi

Abstract: Civil society flourishes under conditions that include freedoms of speech and assembly. But, what happens when those conditions are lacking? Some say civil society cannot or does not exist in countries without constitutional guarantees. Others suggest that people find outlets for social and political interaction regardless of institutional restrictions upon civil society. This research explores the 2007 Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) and 2007-2016 BERSIH protest rallies in Malaysia where freedoms are limited, but where political unrest regularly challenges the state. With the Malaysian political structure labeled as a “semi-authoritarian,” and given tensions on ethnic relations, the social use of space not only carries strong political dimensions, but successfully limits the appearance of crowds in public spaces. Therefore, appropriated virtual space where actions stem from becomes a key driver in environments with limited civil liberties. This research reveals despite authoritarian power that limits civil society activism, not only civil society exists in Malaysia, but it has managed to carve out its space for activism through communication technology networks. This role, however, must be examined within a certain context – the specific circumstances, conditions, histories and actions of the various social actors and social movements.

New Technologies and Implications for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in India
Anuradha Rao

Abstract: In recent years, ‘traditional’ civic and political actors have been joined by newer, Internet-enabled actors in a wide variety of democratic engagement activities. This talk examines the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have influenced the evolution of newer civil society relationships, forms, actions, and spaces in urban India. Based on ethnographic research in Bengaluru, India’s ‘IT City’, as well as insights from ongoing investigations in this field, this talk highlights the implications of the rise of these newer civil society forms for both civil and political engagement. For instance, the rise of a more democratically engaged, English-speaking middle-class in urban centres has produced both new synergies as well as new tensions with older types of civil society actors. Such new relationships among and within civil society are among a host of factors that need to be more deeply examined to fully appreciate the implications of an internet-enabled civil society in India.

Texting galatis and the ili: Narratives of indigenous civic engagement, collective action and the mobile phone
Dazzelyn Baltazar Zapata

Abstract: The Cordillera mountain range in the northern part of the Philippines is recognized as the traditional domain of the Igorot, or people of the mountains. In Mountain Province, Igorot community members use the term ili to refer to their hometown/community. It carries with it a strong emotional reference to their culture, of sharing the same practices, values, and tradition.

Three indigenous communities- Panabungen, Besao; Payag-eo, Suyo, Sagada; and Guina-ang, Bontoc- inform this empirical paper on collective action and civic involvement as nuanced by their mobile phone use. Although this may be strikingly different from the digital activism that we see unfold on the internet, the paper lets us glimpse into how a traditionally off-the-grid community makes use of digital media for their community needs.
The concept of the ili or ‘home’ is at the heart of the village members’ identity as Igorot. Not surprisingly, collective action and civic involvement gravitate around the ili, individual milestones are shared and such activities are rendered voluntarily or galatis (free).
For example, community members bring rice as contribution day before a wedding. Men help out butcher pigs and the women help slice meat and peel vegetables. They also help construct the house for the starting couple, galatis. After childbirth, when the umbilical cord dries and peels off, they celebrate by bringing rice or other produce to welcome the new addition to the community. The baby is then given an Igorot name reminiscent of an ancestor. In instances of death, the bereaved are spared entertaining guests and buying or serving food- the neighbors and distant relatives carry it out.
Community members render the same volunteerism for bigger community-wide concerns like removing roadblocks during typhoon season, fixing their roads, putting up posts for electricity, constructing their water system, and helping build their schools among others. Considered at the fringe of nationally-articulated development due to its distance from the political center, these indigenous villages have long had a self-sustaining governance and has been living in the midst of collective action.
Community members share stories of coordinating galatis using their mobile phones. The gadget has also started to replace their town criers (those who chant the news) more and more. Currently, members of the communities have started to gain access to the internet primarily through free Facebook access. These are now sites of as well of their collective action.
Guided by the culture-centered approach, an alternative lens built on the notion that understanding and negotiating meanings are embedded within cultural contexts and values (Dutta, 2008), the proposed paper will discuss how the Igorot’s sense of collective action and civic-engagement is affected, mediated, manifested and complicated by their use of their mobile phones.

5:00 pm to 6:00 pm Raka Shome Closing Keynote: When postcolonial studies interrupts media studiesAbstract: This talk examines how incorporating postcolonial frameworks interrupts media studies as it has been primarily conducted (in the West). The primary goal of this talk is to “interrupt” certain dominant assumptions and logics that inform media studies (including logics of temporality, and assumptions about what is a media ‘object’). The talk will also discuss why media studies should engage postcolonial studies and why media studies is uniquely positioned to engage postcolonial politics today.

Tuesday, 8 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
9:00 am to 11:00 am Denisa Kera Opening Keynote: Rethinking Plato in Indonesia and other CNM adventures between design and humanitiesAbstract: I joined the CNM department in 2008 to conduct a unique STS research combining philosophy with design to test and rethink the implications of various emergent science and technologies issues on society (nutrigenomics, consumer genomics, DIY science, biotechnologies, open hardware).  I joined the informal networks of knowledge transfer and science and technology ‘diplomacy’ happening in the citizen science movement, makerspaces and hackerspaces around the world since 2009. I gathered evidence that such informal “diplomacy” creates unique South to South, but also South to North networks that address issues of knowledge justice, inclusiveness and democratization. I used examples of DIY laboratory equipment in Indonesia (2011, 2012), radiation monitoring kits in Japan (2013), open hardware innovation in Shenzhen (2014, 2015) to discuss how such activities go beyond research, reproducibility and corroboration in science, but also traditional ideas of innovation and development.The aesthetic, playful and expressive DIY culture involves artists, designers and various enthusiasts in what I call “artisanal” approach to science and technology that extend the purely epistemic (improving knowledge about nature) and normative (improving society) expectations of science and technology. They include open ended, creative explorations, but also civic aspirations that include small acts of disobedience and rebellion against the reduction of science and technology to bureaucratic administration, industrial interests and anonymous labour of some ‘big science’ agenda. The DIY “artisans” build instruments to regain sovereignty, dignity and freedom in an age immersed in science and technology. The alternative R&D settings of these activities and spaces engage the public with science and technology as a form of activism, but also leisure. To test some of these hypothesis about the DIY movement of science and technology artisans, I joined the OCSDNET network with a project on “Understanding Open Hardware and Citizen Science” (2015 – 2017). Through 2015 and 2016, we conducted seven workshops on low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY), and open source tools (or “Open Science Hardware” – OSH) in Indonesia, Thailand and Nepal, which included a 10-day long workshop in Yogyakarta, five 1-2 day workshops in Bangkok, and a 10-day workshop in Kathmandu. The goal of the workshops was to understand how OSH instruments engage local communities in research and education, to which we had to add art, design and crafts, because of many creative (mis)uses of science instruments, which we witnessed on the ground. The open hardware creates conditions for politics to converge with design on a global scale and introduces political deliberation based on material, rather than purely discursive practices. In the present, I work on this convergence of politics and design that forces us to rethink our traditional views of governance based on the degradation of makers (demiurgoi) as political actors in Plato’s Republic. The blueprint of our governance ideals of separation of powers and various forms of “trias politica” degraded making and production as political activities. Politics since Plato’s Republic is opposed to making and designing and it is defined as a contemplative, cognitive and discursive achievement based on the right insight into the true nature of our soul and society. The present network of hackerspaces and DIY makers act as a utopian ‘republic of tinkerers’ that explores an alternative form of governance where prototypes lead to deliberation upon common future and global issues and where consensus is transformed into testing tools. With this preliminary genealogy of tinkering and making, I would like to rethink my work on hackerspace ‘governance’ as an experimental policy of prototypes which define citizens as not only voters delegating power, but also makers and regulators, as a “public of demiurgoi”.
11:00 am to 12:30 pm Iccha Basnyat, Ashwini Falnikar, Somrita Ganchowdhury Panel 4: Intervening into neoliberal structuresCulturally Centering Nepalese Female Sex Worker’s Experience to Explore the Intersections of Gender, Health, and Structural Inequalities
Iccha Basnyat

Abstract: I argue that the traditional attempts to reduce the prevalence health risks to female sex workers’ (FSW) narrowly defines health, and such communication efforts are focused on facilitating the reduction of individual risk prevalence. Based on 35 in-depth interviews, I use lived experiences of FSWs to discuss the relationships between gender, health, and structural inequalities. Through my work, I argue that centralizing gender enables us to recognize the societal conditions and patterns that creates and sustains inequalities in women’s lives allowing us to examine the impact on health as well as explore the specific mechanisms that reinforces these inequalities. I further argue that health of women, particularly marginalized women, must be understood within the multiple intersections of the women’s lives rather than a standalone discussion of individualized health such as STI/HIV, condom negotiation, limited partner all of which places the onerous simply on the women themselves rather than understanding the social context within which her decision resides. Ultimately, through my research I urge us to locate the discussion of health of marginalized women within the socially constructed cultural context, while paying attention to the gendered inequalities, labor divisions, power relations, and proscribed sexual norms that impacts health and health decision making.

A Critique of HIV and Aids Policy
Somrita Ganchowdhury

Abstract: This study seeks to interrogate the neoliberal logic embedded in the discursive construction of the annual report of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), which is the nodal organization for policy formulation and implementation of National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in India. This study looks at how the construction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) as an individualized behaviour-based disease maintains the global hegemony of neoliberal governmentality. In the light of understanding the neoliberal agenda underlying the framing of HIV/AIDS and the material interventions that are mobilized around it, this article analyses the NACO reports examining the goals, objectives, taken-for-granted assumptions, and issues that remain absent from the discursive space.

BT Cotton and the Voices of the Widows in the Face of Farmer-suicides
Ashwini Falnikar

Abstract: The post-liberalization agriculture is marked by an epidemic of farmer suicides in India. Amid the dominant discourse of dissemination of new agricultural technology of Bt cotton aided by communication framework of dissemination of messages for marketing of agricultural technologies, the voices of the farmers remain erased. Salient in the backdrop of high-yield narrative of Bt cotton are the everyday constructions of suicides among the farmers. The voices of the farmers disrupt the monolithic construction of the agricultural technologies as tools of modernization and progress. This article draws on the voices of the women in agrarian households that are especially salient amid patriarchal representations of decision-making in agriculture.

12:30 pm to 2:00 pm Lunch
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Braema Mathi Panel 5: Conversations with CARE’s Activist CollabaratorAbstract: The veteran Singaporean activist Ms. Braema Mathi has been a key activist collaborator in the work of CARE, helping build community networks and anchors for capacity building in the realm of communication for social change. In this conversation, she will reflect on her experience with activism in Singapore, the history of activism and communication in Singapore, the changing landscape of communication activism in Singapore, and the ways in which this changing landscape has negotiated the ongoing challenges to activism amid Singapore’s soft-authoritarian policies.
3:00 pm to 4:00 pm Satveer Kaur, Mohan J. Dutta Panel 6: CARE Interventions Showcase 1- Respect Our RightsAbstract: In this Interventions Showcase, the CARE research team will highlight the work of the “Respect our Rights” campaign launched by CARE. Based on culture-centered dialogues with foreign domestic workers in Singapore, the project seeks to create a communicative infrastructure for foreign domestic workers that disrupts the spaces created in the ambits of state, civil society, and market. The voices of the foreign domestic workers foregrounded in the discursive registers disrupt the narrative anchors circulated in the mainstream, offering alternative narratives of hope and imagination. These narratives create conceptual anchors for articulating rights from the global margins and amid the sites of neoliberal production in the Asian cosmopolis. The project foregrounds the nature of social change communication amid migration and global flows, suggesting pathways for disrupting authoritarian modes of neoliberal reproduction.
4:00 pm to 5:00 pm Naomi Tan, Asha Pandi, Mohan J. Dutta Panel 7: CARE Interventions Showcase 2- Singaporeans Left BehindAbstract: The “Singaporeans Left Behind” advocacy campaign, developed by an advisory group of Singaporeans living in poverty interrupts the erasure of poverty from mainstream discursive spaces in Singapore. Through their participation in communicative infrastructures, community members articulate anchors to advocacy. These narrative entry points resist the obfuscation of poverty in the mainstream. In the presentation, we will outline the communicative processes in the development of the advocacy strategies, the structures that constituted the work of advocacy, and the negotiations of these structures.
5:00 pm to 6:30 pm Deborah Dougherty Closing Keynote: Sexual harassment and communication interventions that workAbstract: Sexual harassment has been an ongoing problem in Western style workplaces for many years and is considered to be illegal behavior in most of the developed world. Most remediation efforts focus on the legal dynamics of this behavior, using organizational policies and training as the primary response. While necessary, this response is inadequate to solve this wicked problem in the contemporary workplace. Instead, it is necessary to understand sexual harassment as a complex communication problem interwoven with social, cultural, and organizational norms and assumptions. This presentation focuses on the ways in which social assumptions about gender and sexuality make organizational members unable to recognize sexual harassment when it occurs. Effective bystander intervention will be discussed.

Wednesday, 9 May: 

Time Speaker Topic
9:00 am to 10:30 am Ingrid Hoofd Opening Keynote: Paulo Freire’s Promise: A Critique of the Bottom-up Communicative Educational IdealAbstract: In the Western as well as non-Western context, the work of Paulo Freire has generally been lauded as signifying a provision of communicative and educational empowerment for non-Western marginalised populations through advocating a restructuring of the higher educational setting via so-called ‘bottom-up’ learning and the use of then-new media. While partially noting the merits of Freire’s approach, this talk nonetheless also traces this ‘alternative’ pedagogical and communicational method that Freire proposes back to the onset of technological acceleration and a qualitative shift in global capitalism from the turn of the twentieth century onwards. It illustrates this by working through Paulo Freire’s famous Pedagogy of the Oppressed, arguing that this work is symptomatic of the cybernetic acceleration of the ideals of the university after the Cold War from which e-learning initiatives also emerged. During this period namely, the sympathetic argument for ‘bottom-up learning’ through new media starts to conceal how authority becomes increasingly networked and stealth, eventually functioning to insert ‘the oppressed and marginalised’ into the accelerated economy for the benefit of the global elites.
10:30 am to 12:00 nn Julian Lim, Renyi Hong, Itty Abraham, Taberez Neyazi; Moderated by Eric Kerr Panel 8: Fourth Industrial RevolutionFuture of Human Communication- with Artificial Intelligence
Julian Lin

Abstract: With the introduction of smartphone, our lives has changed dramatically. Nowadays, human spent more time with smartphones than with their counterparts. A survey reported by Straits Times showed that Singapore spend over 12 hours on gadgets daily. With the introduction of smart home assistant with AI capabilities, human will spend even more time with technology. This session will look at the current state of smart home assistant with AI capability, the capability of artificial intelligence to learn, and predict data accurately, as well as, what the near future will possibly be. Impacts on society will be discussed.

Bearability and the Politics of Self-Erasure
Renyi Hong

Abstract: This paper makes an argument about bearability: the capacity of media processes to enable possibilities of endurance for laboring subjects of structural precarity. I enter this topic by bringing up a recent article by the Financial Times which rai

CNM-CARE Research Talk: Rethinking Censorship In An Age of Authoritarian Resilience- Presented By Professor Cherian George


Most discussions on media freedom implicitly contrast it to totalitarian control. While it is intuitively appealing to think of liberty as the opposite of tyranny, this binary framework does not help us understand how today’s authoritarian regimes sustain themselves. Integrating empirical research on censorship practices, this presentation considers how media policies contribute to authoritarian resilience, with a particular focus on Asia, including Singapore. Although not ideologically opposed to spectacularly repressive methods, many states have shifted to stealthier forms of censorship. They also apply differential levels of censorship, allowing selective liberalisation to enhance their legitimacy among publics and co-opt large segments of the media and culture industries, while stifling communication that would potentially challenge their political dominance.


Cherian George is professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He researches media and politics, including freedom of expression, censorship and hate propaganda. He is currently working on a book on media and power in Southeast Asia for Cambridge University Press. His previous books include Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy (MIT Press, 2016), and Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore (NUS Press, 2012).

28 March 2018
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS4, #01-19


University Town
National University of Singapore
Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium

Register at

Thoughts On CARE’s Dialogue On Sexual Violence

Written by Ms Raksha Kirpal Mahtani |

The CARE talk on Sexual Violence aimed to look at how communications impacts on concepts of sexual violence, promotes education on the legal measures available to those who have suffered sexual assaults and connects support services for the survivors of sexual assaults.

Dr Asha Rathina Pandi, from CARE and a CNM lecturer, opened the Dialogue session, sharing her thoughts on how society has evolved that today there are more culturally responsive ways to formulating and coordinating responses, finding solutions on sexual assaults that are survivor-centric. Dr Asha also highlighted the usefulness of a campaign such as #MeToo[1] that has raised awareness to sexual violence when talking about sex is still a taboo subject. She then introduced the speakers on the panel.

Ms Braema Mathi’s presentation was entitled “Time is Up.The Truth. The Action”. She opened the discussion with definitions of sexual violence, as articulated by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, CEDAW[2], WHO (World Health Organisation) and in Singapore laws. She highlighted that WHO’s definition takes into account  ‘coercion’[3], which goes further than ascertaining if sex was consensual or non-consensual. This development in definition is a response to how sexuality is expressed today where there is high digitisation, access to date-drugs and clear displays of diverse sexual behaviours. She added that sexual violence is a package, with physical and psychological violence, that impacts the person.

To show how change had come about, Ms Braema gave a historical overview from how women were treated as ‘properties’ of men. Many men still see themselves today as heads of households, in societies, at workplaces. Societies are still patriarchal and objectify women. Social media has opened doors to greater sexual experimentation where women, men, girls and boys are often no longer sure where the boundaries are and risk getting caught out by their own actions. Ms Braema also shared how women were treated in conflicts, referring to stories of gang rapes of Rohingya women. She said the UN has played a role in normalizing the work to protect especially women, against violence. She said that over almost 40 years, UN agreed to 3 General Recommendations (GR) [4] that were added to CEDAW to request countries under the State Obligation principle, to be focused on preventing violence against women, girls, boys, men, protection of persons and prosecution for perpetrators. These changes have come about through time because of the many voices, the lobbying of survivors, activists, lawyers, journalists, care workers, academics, celebrities, leaders who have spoken up and fought for social change. In February, popular actress Oprah Winfrey supported the #MeToo Campaign and said Time is Up for the silence and for those accused.

Globally, more than a third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted. But 70 per cent of assaults go unreported. Ms Braema added that  “anyone and everyone” – women, girls, boys, men, infants, older persons, LBGTs, infants, sex workers, trafficked persons into the sex industry, migrant workers – can be and have been sexually assaulted in their everyday lives or have been targeted in conflicts and acts of vengeance. Certain communities are more vulnerable to sexual violence, because of their nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups, cultures, social classes, work status (factory floor workers, foreign domestic workers, aid workers, journalists), social status (drug addicts, homeless, bohemian, refugees). In Singapore, police data shows that almost each day there is a reported case of a sexual assault. Between 2012 and 2016, there were 325 cases of sexual assaults against women, and abuse of girls aged fewer than 16[5].

The truth is that communications to effect change, has to go on, for sustainable long-term prevention of sexual violence, through knowledge-sharing and accepting gender equality. She raised a few questions:

  • how successful is the #MeToo campaign as response rates in Asia seem to be low?
  • how sustainable is the success from an involved campaign that took place in India 5-years ago, in support of Nirbhaya[6], a 23-year-old who died from a severe gang rape that included rod penetrations that punctured internal organs?
  • how successful is the lobbying by the WW II South Korean comfort women, now in their late 80s, who stand, every day, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, asking for an apology?
  • how to successfully handle certain cultural and religious beliefs on female genital mutilation and child marriages, to show that these are sexual assault practices against children?

In closing, Ms Braema, reiterated on barriers and the silence on talking about sexual violence, reminding the audience of 35 students to think how they could advocate for survivors to receive protection and assistance they need, and also prevent of sexual assaults through sustainable communications and gender mainstreaming approach in education.

The second talk by practicing defence lawyer Ms Gloria James-Civetta, was entitled Justice & Legislation: Improvements, Protection & Challenges related to Sexual Harassment. Leveraging her experience working with families, women reporting family violence, women reporting sexual harassment and assaults, amongst other cases, Ms Gloria framed her dialogue on how the legal context on sexual assault laws works, as governed by the Women’s Charter and Penal Code in Singapore.

She highlighted a case where a Singaporean woman was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend overseas, citing that Singaporean courts are limited by jurisdictional issues in that they cannot rule on crimes overseas when it comes to sexual assault. She also illustrated on how diversity in legal definitions on sexual assaults posed challenges. Some countries recognise ‘consent’ as a touchstone point to determine if a sexual assault had taken place. But other countries required a concomitant physical assault (or beating) to take place before the event could be recognised as a rape. In addition, socio-cultural norms also make it a challenge to legally defend a client as there can be a normalisation of certain types of sexual assault, which makes it acceptable. For example ‘petting on the butt’ is not seen culturally as a sexual assault in some societies. As such women who feel violated will find it hard to prove that there is sexual assault, much as the lawyers too, will find it difficult to use the law as an asset to argue the case for sexual assault. She also shared that in cases of incest it is also very difficult for the girl, as she would not wish to break up the family or see her parent or relative in jail. There is also limited protection on marital rape.

Ms Gloria also expanded on the contexts in which sexual assaults happen. ‘Couch sharing’ apps have led to more women reporting to lawyers on harassments, threats, and extortions they experience. Others have shared their experiences of sexual assaults through ‘upskirt’ mobile phone video-ing, web-based nudity, cybersex, and self-pleasure videos. These are the new norms of sexual violence, with women and girls bearing the brunt of the sexual assaults. She also shared that legally it is a challenge, in some of these cases, to prove that a person has been sexually assaulted, as there is an equal contestation by the lawyer of the accused. Ms Gloria said it is very important to share the details, without feeling shy or embarrassed, so that lawyers can try their best within the ambit of the law.

She also highlighted that the prosecution has the prerogative to compound the offence – or decline to prosecute – which can put an end to the matter. There is limited precedence for civil action on criminal offences such as sexual assaults, which greatly limits the options that survivors have, even when they seek legal help and do report. She shared the various laws to show how definitions and articles do scope the work to prove sexual assaults, especially where the burden of proof for criminal cases is very high i.e. ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

Ms Gloria said that it was important to remember that the path to recovery is multi-faceted, and the person may require different avenues of seeking closure and support, counselling, and medical assistance. What is needed, she said, is to take on a holistic approach. In her work with the Courts, she said, she has been working towards mental health treatment plans and alternative sentencing for non-contact sexual violence offenders. She stressed that there must be a joint effort and early interventions to truly address this important issue in Singapore. Service and care workers, who are majority women, often receive the brunt of sexual harassment.

The third speaker was Ms Jolene Tan, AWARE’s Head of Research and Advocacy, whose presentation was titled Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence. AWARE’s women’s helpline started in the 1990s. In 2014, it set up the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), a groundbreaking development in AWARE’s work, to support and care for survivors of sexual assault in Singapore.

AWARE’s data shows that many people have sought help, annually, through their general helpline. The SACC numbers are higher showing again that many women and girls do not report to the police. Ms Jolene stressed that, despite the challenges, there is at least one headline a day in the Straits Times on a sexual assault crime in Singapore. These are reported cases, the tip of the iceberg because sexual violence is grossly under-reported. She said Singapore has a lower level of awareness when it comes to recognising sexual assault as it happens. People tend to deny that sexual assault happens in Singapore because “we are wealthier, luckier, more developed, safe”. However, SACC saw higher reporting rates in its cases around the time of the #MeToo campaign.

What is more important is that more women and girls can talk to SACC about their sexual assault experiences and not be putt of by comments such as “it’s a one-off incident”, “not serious”, “were you drinking?”. She also said that reassuring women was important, as there are now more technology-aided crimes such as revenge porn, online harassment, and non-contact sexual assault.

What is needed, she added, is that sexual violence needs to be mainstreamed as something that happens in Singapore. She asked for a systematic sensitisation of the public, doctors, lawyers, police, counsellors that can dramatically change the context of a report.

AWARE also provides counselling, legal information, befriender services, and a support group for survivors. Jolene reiterated that having a centre called the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) was significant as it is an affirmation to survivors that their struggles are real, and that they are not alone in the recovery process. For some survivors, recovery is not always about reporting through the avenues provided by criminal justice system, but it may be through just listening, counselling, support, recognition, healthcare, and/or building community in which survivors can find reprieve.

Support Services available:

  1. Students have a hotline for counselling
  2. AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, Contact No: 6779 0282
  3. PAVE: Promoting Alternatives to Violence, Contact No: 6555 0390
  4. Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Child Protective Services Helpline, Contact No: 1800-7770000
  5. Trans Safe Centre, Contact No: 64499088


[2] CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women has been ratified by 188 countries, including Singapore, and is the fundamental anti-discriminatory Convention to give women their rights. CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

[3] Coercion, with regard to sexual violence, can cover a whole spectrum of degrees of force. Apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats – for instance, the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when the person being attacked is unable to give consent – for instance, while drunk, drugged, asleep or mentally incapable of understanding the situation;; www.;

[4] CEDAW’s General Recommendations (GR) 12( 1989), !9 ( 1992), 35 (2017) shows a constant need to bring about more awareness and protection to deal with violence, a constant social change by UN that is needed to reduce the prevalence of abuse. In GR 35, Article 14: “Gender-based violence affects women throughout their life cycleand accordingly references to women in this document include girls. This violence takes multiple forms, including acts or omissions intended or likely to cause or result in death18 or physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, threats of such acts, harassment, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.Gender-based violence against women is affected and often exacerbated by cultural, economic, ideological, technological, political, religious, social and environmental factors, as evidenced, among others, in the contexts of displacement, migration, increased globalization of economic activities including global supply chains, extractive and offshoring industry, militarisation, foreign occupation, armed conflict, violent extremism and terrorism. Gender-based violence against women is also affected by political, economic and social crises, civil unrest, humanitarian emergencies, natural disasters, destruction or degradation of natural resources. Harmful practices20 and crimes against women human rights defenders, politicians21, activists or journalists are also forms of gender-based violence against women affected by such cultural, ideological and political factors”.


[6] The victim of the Delhi gangrape case was renamed ‘Nirbhaya’ (Hindi for fearless) by Indian feminist activist groups to protect her identity, and her name and case later became a clarion call for social change and sexual assault law and policy reform in India.

CNM-CARE Research Talk: The Bandung Doctrine On Decolonisation- By Professor Kuan-Hsing Chen


The Bandung Conference transformed the global dynamics that had been shaped by imperialism and colonialism, breaking away from the binarism of socialist and capitalist ideals. And with the rapid ascent of nations like Africa, Asia, the Carribbean and Latin-America, the history of conquest can now be brought to light, examined and understood. Professor Kuan-Hsing Chen argues that this re-examination will lead to solidarity across all sectors. Only when programmes like Indonesia’s New Marine Time and China’s One Belt, One Road are understood through the lens of the Bandung spirit of decolonisation, can they be connected intellectually and politically. This not only demands a critical re-examination of histories, but also challenge existing modes of knowledge that were shaped by European colonisers for the past two hundred years.


A self-claimed Bandungist, Kuan-Hsing Chen works in the Center for Asia-Pacific Cultural Studies, Hsinchu. Founding Chair of the board of trustee for the Inter-Asia School (an international NPO). He taught in Chiao Tung University (2008-2017), Tsing Hua University (1990-2008) and has held (and is still having long term affiliation with) visiting professorships at universities in China, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the US.

28 Feb 2018
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS7, #01-06

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CNM-CARE Research Talk: Repositioning The World’s Health- By Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya


What is the World Health Organisation? Its Headquarters in Geneva? Or, is it a more dispersed international entity, which engages and deals with disparate polities in order to stay effective and relevant? In all this, how can we conceptualise the historic formation, underpinning negotiations and impact of the WHO Regional Offices, which are the legal entities that negotiate and work with national governments on a daily basis? Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya uses recent histories of international and global health projects to question a series of presumptions that continue to colonise scholarship about the value of the idea and work of a relatively small sets of actors. In so doing, he argues for the need for greater transparency and democracy in inter-sectoral partnerships that aims to improve global health and well-being.


Sanjoy Bhattacharya is Professor in the History of Medicine Department of History, University of York, UK. He studied at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi (India); Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India), and the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, UK). He is a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator working on the history and contemporary workings of Primary Health Care and the provision of Universal Health Coverage in South Asia. Sanjoy also continues to work on the histories of the worldwide eradication of smallpox, and the migration, experiences and contribution of South Asian doctors in the UK’s National Health Service.

1 March 2018
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM


Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS6, Lecture Theatre 14 (LT14)

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS6, #03-33, CNM Meeting Room

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