Commentary

22 years of listening to women in need

Published: March 8, 3:59 AM
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“Listen, listen and then listen some more.” That is what AWARE’s team of 50 helpliners are committed to doing — listening to women talk about the struggles they face as they try to claim a rightful place in their personal and professional lives.

This International Women’s Day, we call upon society to give women the space and support they need to take charge of their lives.

The AWARE helpline turns 22 this year, but we do not know whether to celebrate this landmark in the history of our association and the women’s movement in Singapore — or to be concerned about the reality that confronts us: That a dedicated helpline for women continues to be in demand, more so than ever before.

In the last 20 years, the country has made great economic strides. Yet, discrimination, disempowerment and violence against women persist. While there are statistics about gender disparities, we who listen on the phone learn about them as the subjective experiences of women who call for help.

Women in Singapore still face crimes of violence at home, at the workplace, in public spaces; perpetrated by trusted family members, partners or strangers. They risk losing their jobs when they become mothers. They are subjected to growing stress as they take on demanding work and continue to be solely responsible for caregiving at home. Their status in their families and their decision-making power continue to be hampered by unequal gender roles.

These are some of the issues we hear about on AWARE’s helpline. Sometimes, it is the first time that the caller has decided to talk to someone about her problem, believing the helpline would be a safe space to do so. At other times, the caller has tried several avenues already and when nothing has worked, she calls us, hoping to find a more understanding ear.

DIVORCE DIFFICULTIES

Last year, out of the 3,184 calls we received, 27 per cent were seeking legal advice, predominantly about divorce and ancillary matters; 15 per cent were seeking emotional support for marital problems, and 12 per cent were seeking help with abusive relationships.

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