Not long ago when I attended my first women caucus of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) in Batanes, Phlippines, I remember telling the participants that the SDP did not have a women’s wing because of the small number of women in the party.
(I said – to great laughter – that we were so few in number that the previous women’s caucus was attended by our former chairman, Mr Gandhi Ambalam.)
I am proud to say that, today, we have grown so much so that the Women Democrats, headed by Chee Siok Chin, are now the engine of the party.
(Photo: Jaslyn Go, with fellow Woman Democrat Chong Wai Fung, in a discussion with SDP Secretary-General Dr Chee Soon Juan at a CALD conference.)
But being a woman and a mother (I have two lovely children) and being actively engaged in a political party is not easy. There are meetings to attend, walkabouts to go, and events to organise on top of taking care of family.
I am not complaining. I chose to have kids and I am glad I did. I see my role in the SDP as a service to my country. My role as a mother does not hinder my pursuit of democracy in Singapore. I have learned to strike a balance between being a mother, wife, daughter and my contribution to the SDP – the party I believe will bring change we so badly need in Singapore.
But even then, I have been criticised for doing what I believe in. Years ago, I was prosecuted for participating in an illegal assembly. Even though I had to attend court, I did not let that affect my responsibilities as a mother. I asked the court for early breaks so that I could rush home to send my children to school and then to pick them up.
I was criticised for being a bad mother who exposed my kids to the danger of protests. Fast forward to 16 February 2013 where about five thousand people turned up to protest against the Government’s population white paper. Among them were young children, some of them even holding placards.
(Photo: Jaslyn Go with her kids at the Tak Boleh Tahan protest in 2008, far left; kids at the protest against the White Paper in 2013)
As parents, we should use opportunities to impart the right values to our children – values of justice, equality and democracy – and not just press to do well in exams. I am not just bringing up my children, I am also teaching them to become good and responsible citizens of tomorrow. I love them and that is why I want them to inherit a democratic society in the future.
I’m heartened that, finally, people see that peaceful protests are a legitimate way of expressing themselves and, when I look back, I am glad that I stood together with my party leaders, Dr Chee and Siok Chin and others, and fought for our rights to peaceful assembly.
And when I’m done attending court or organising a conference for the party, my day doesn’t end. Dinner, laundry, and other chores have to be done. Again, I’m not complaining. I just want to encourage women that if we are committed to bringing about change, we have to make sacrifices and adjustments. Yes, we can be good mothers, good wives and good leaders all rolled into one. (Of course it helps when my husband stays home to look after the kids while I am tending to party matters – he would score more brownie points if he could do the laundry as well).
I hope that more women will come forward and be that strong voice for Singapore. Our nation needs us at this crucial period. We should not have to choose between being a mother and being a representative of democracy. We can do both. Indeed, we must if we are women.
Jaslyn Go is a member of The Women Democrats.