Category Archives: Discrimination

Gender and politics

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New laws on labour trafficking: the need for defining conditions in SG

Bar on what is forced labour should not be set so high that new law ends up nailing no one


A group of Bangladeshi men arrive in Singapore expecting to earn a basic monthly salary of $600 plus overtime because that is what they were told back home when they were recruited to be construction workers. The amount is stated in the approval letter from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) which they receive before they board the flight. Within days of arriving, however, their employer gives them the lowdown: their basic pay will be $520, and they will have to sign a fresh contract reflecting the reduced terms. Having taken loans of more than $3,000 to land their jobs here, the men sign on the dotted line. If they refuse, they know, they might be sent home penniless to face a huge debt.

They start work and soon learn that other workers have been similarly deceived by the same employer, who also makes them work extra hours without overtime pay. There are illegal deductions too and some months their basic salary dips to below $200.

This is a hypothetical case, but such practices are not uncommon here, say migrant worker advocates who deal with foreign workers in various states of distress. If migrant workers facing such multiple forms of abuse complained in Europe, the United States, Canada or Australia, their allegations, if true, could be prosecuted under laws banning human trafficking. In those countries, the law covers vulnerable migrant workers who are deceived or coerced into commercial sex or labour and exploited.

Singapore is planning a dedicated law to combat human trafficking, but judging by discussions so far, such cases may fall outside its purview. Public consultations on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, likely to be introduced in Parliament by November this year, ended on April 18. It covers sex and organ trafficking, which are already illegal here, as well as labour trafficking which is not prohibited under current laws. Continue reading

Guard Against the Tryanny of the Minority

Lately, I have been very annoyed by the angry online mob. The mob that possesses the most pessimistic of views towards the government, towards fellow Singaporeans, towards anything that have a tenuous link towards special interest groups, race issues, religion…  the knee-jerk-mouth-foaming vitriol of the mob becomes an echo chamber riddled with bad grammar, and even worse ideas. There is no marketplace of ideas to talk about if they are not even ideas in the first place.   Then I read about Singapore Day, and I got even more feverishly annoyed (I actually prefer another word, but ‘annoyed’ will do) . It seems common sense that if an event is ticketed, and they turn people away, it’s because, you, good sir, don’t have a ticket. It’s like knock knock knockin’ on the door of a concert and crying RACIST! Someone please turn this into stand-up comedy material.  

Straits Times, 20 Oct 2013| Rachel Chang

Sometimes I feel like Tocqueville got it backwards. It’s not the tyranny of the majority we have to guard against, but that of the minority.

It’s one Australian – “James” – labelling a Singapore Day event in Sydney xenophobic because they turned him, a white guy, away.

Never mind that it was a ticketed, private event which he had neither been invited to nor registered for.

Logic will not stand in the way of those filled with the fervour of their own subjective, unrepresentative beliefs.

That’s nothing new, of course. But somehow, these isolated individuals – or groups – have now found it within their power to ruin things for everyone else.

I’m sure that those 6,000 Singaporeans in Sydney still had a good time, but it’s extremely dismaying that one person’s unresearched views could result in media coverage and become the only thing that some Australians have heard about Singapore Day in Australia.

At a sadder extreme are those Tea Party Republicans who first ruined things for other Americans by shutting their government down a few weeks ago, then almost succeeding in dragging down the entire world as well through a US debt default.

Never mind that their reason for doing so was hatred of a health-care law that has been passed by Congress and deemed constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

What’s at work is a sort of overweening conviction in one’s own view as the be-all and end-all.

Whatever happened to self-doubt, or its good friend, a second opinion?

Here is where the tyranny of the minority has come into its own because some people or groups have somehow managed to wall themselves off from the moderate minority in a way that all the second opinions they get egg them on, or worse, escalate things.

The only reason these Republicans could carry on the way they were carrying on is that they never have to face a national, representative electorate: Some of the districts they come from have been gerrymandered into silos of ultra-conservative voters.

In the Sydney Singapore Day incident as well, the person truly at fault in my view was the radio DJ who reacted to James’ complaints about xenophobia by saying it was “disgraceful” – rather than, say, asking if it was a ticketed, private event that an unregistered, ticketless person had no business being at. Instead of holding a mirror up to someone’s idiocy, why not magnify it?

I blame a strange cult of self- empowerment and conviction that has developed in recent years. This is the one where we really, really over-valorise resolve, believing in yourself and “standing your ground”.

But what if you are wrong and the ground you’re standing on is riddled with inaccuracy?

The subliminal messaging is nestled deep in our pop culture. We are told, for example, to Just Do It, rather than Just Sleep On It and Consult Others such as parents and valued mentors.

We are told that a small, committed group of people is the only thing that has ever effected change – without the caveat that a lack of numbers should mostly be taken as a sign.

Somehow, it has become surrender to compromise and weak to hear out an opposing view and acknowledge its value. There’s very little room for self-reflection and self-improvement in all this.

I see it in myself and my peers. We have a tendency to meet criticism with defiance and defensiveness: “haters gonna hate”, rather than “haters may have a point and I should re-evaluate and try to address this area of weakness”.

It’s this kind of thing that has led people such as James the Australian to think of their opinions as valuable to anyone beyond their mothers and worthy of broadcast.

It seems strange that this is all unfolding in an inter-connected, globalised world. Surely being exposed to the reach, spread and scope of the universe should make us realise how truly small and insignificant we each are.

But as it turns out, it’s only made us think of our egos as having reach, spread and scope. It’s enough to make one wish for the days of mob rule.

At least then, we could go after James and those Tea Party Republicans with flaming torches and clubs or something.

Chile passes anti-discrimination law after brutal hate crime

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Chile enacted an anti-discrimination law on Thursday, fully seven years after it went before Parliament, amid horror after suspected neo-Nazis killed a young gay man.

The bill condemns discrimination based on gender, race and religion, among other factors. It was presented to parliament in 2005 but not approved until May 2012, after the initiative was stalled by conservative legislators.

It introduces the concept of ‘arbitrary discrimination’ into the Chilean legal system and punishes violators with fines ranging from US$400 (S$508) to $4,000.

Some on the Chilean right feared the law might lead to the legalisation of gay marriage and held up the bill’s progression. The political logjam only broke after the killing of 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio on March 27.

The new law has been dubbed the ‘Zamudio Law.’ Pictures released by Zamudio’s family showed how the attackers inflicted a head wound, burned him with cigarettes, and carved Nazi symbols and slogans on his body. Zamudio spent three weeks in hospital before dying.

Chile’s political left ruled the country at the end of roughly two decades of dictatorship, until 2010, when right-wing President Sebastian Pinera was elected to office.

‘Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, now we have a new law I’m sure will help us confront, prevent and punish acts of discrimination, which cause so much pain,’ Mr Pinera said, as his enacted the new law at the presidential palace.

Zamudio’s parents attended the ceremony.

‘I am very proud that the law was passed and that it is named for Daniel,’ said Daniel’s mother, Jacqueline Vera. ‘My son will never be forgotten.’

Representatives of Chile’s Jewish, Arab, indigenous and disabled communities were also present at the ceremony.

The law defines ‘arbitrary discrimination’ as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction made without reasonable justification by state employees or private individuals that would deprive, disrupt or threaten fundamental rights.’

Chilean gay rights group The Homosexual Liberation Movement reports that 17 people have died and some 800 have been assaulted in crimes against Chile’s gay community since 2002. –  20Jul, 2012

Afghanistan’s Terrorized Women

By Mohammed Musa Mahmodi , Project Syndicate,2012-01-24

KABUL – Recently, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kudoz province reported the rescue of a young woman who had been imprisoned in her in-laws’ dungeon for seven months. Fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul was forced to marry an older man who serves in the Afghan army. She was then kept in the dungeon by her husband’s family and brutally tortured for months, because she refused to work as a prostitute.

Over the past ten years, the AIHRC has received more than 19,000 complaints related to violence against women. Despite making some progress in investigating the complaints and referring them to the justice system, as well as in raising public awareness about the issue, the challenges remain huge.

Since 2002, many efforts have been made to improve women’s lives in Afghanistan. The country has enacted several new laws and established a fairly advanced legal framework to end discrimination against women, including a new law that criminalizes any act that results in violence against women.

But laws and policies alone are not sufficient to protect women from horrific domestic abuse. Indeed, the Gul case is hardly the only well-publicized case. There was also Gulnaz, a young woman who was jailed for adultery after being raped by a relative (she was recently released after a presidential pardon, but may be forced to marry her attacker). The husband of another young woman, Aisha, cut off her nose and ears when she ran away.

Violence against women in Afghanistan persists for many reasons. First, the country has inherited a patriarchal tribal tradition that assumes women’s inferiority. Women are therefore deprived of their basic rights and freedoms.

Second, there is a strong political incentive to deprive women of their rights. Radical groups receive immense support from the large share of the population that opposes women’s rights. The Taliban, for example, have consistently used an anti-women policy to appeal to tribal and rural people.

Third, family pride and honor are deemed more important than a woman’s individual well-being and safety. For example, if family members beat or abuse a woman, she has few options. Often, her only choice is to remain silent or risk disgracing the family. If she does report the matter to the authorities, the case will almost certainly never be properly investigated, nor the perpetrators ever prosecuted. Gul, for example, complained to the police about her abusive in-laws, but she was returned to the family when some of their influential contacts intervened.

Fourth, laws are often arbitrarily applied, and sharia (Islamic law) frequently takes precedence over civil legislation, resulting in widespread impunity for crimes of violence against women. For example, in October 2010, the Afghan Supreme Court ruled that women who run away from home can be charged with prostitution, unless they go to the police or an immediate relative’s home. It is this mindset that led to Gul’s victimization.

Finally, while the Taliban lost power ten years ago, discrimination and violence against women has occurred in Afghan society for centuries. Thus, despite some progress, public and official sensitivity to violence against women is only slowly emerging.

The Afghan government must take several steps to protect women fully. Above all, perpetrators of violence against women should be prosecuted and tried under due process of law. This will require strengthening the rule of law and ending the prevailing culture of impunity.

That, in turn, requires educating the public further about human rights and women’s rights through school textbooks, continuing education courses, and a vigorous media campaign. It also requires persuading representatives and policymakers to develop policies and allocate budget revenues to combat violence against women, and training police and judges to handle cases of violence against women without deferring to claims of family honor. Perhaps most importantly, non-constitutional justice systems, such as sharia, must be monitored and checked, if not prohibited altogether.

As for Sahar Gul, her case must be thoroughly investigated, and the police and judiciary must commit to bringing her torturers to justice. Furthermore, Gul’s case, and others like it, should be studied in order to understand the roots of such crimes. Until Afghanistan’s leaders begin to address this problem seriously, our country will continue to bear the scar of violence against women on its face.