Do the women MPs really have a voice?

March 18, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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Charles Tan

Today ran a report recently about 10 PAP women MPs coming together to better represent women’s perspectives on policies. Not surprisingly, they focused on women issues; particularly on encouraging married women to give birth and continue as working mothers – in line with the partys economical and social agenda.

While it is commendable that PAP women MPs are fighting to be heard among the big boys, and gaining a seat in the cabinet, the pertinent question is to ask if they are truly any different from their male colleagues?

Not too long ago, Dr Amy Khor from Hong Kah GRC was reprimanded by our Prime Minister for not standing up to the integrity of the party when she reflected the views of a resident who felt betrayed by the PAP.

This top down governmental hierarchical system of governance in Parliament stifles genuine expression and opinion. It is difficult to imagine how an MP, male or female, within the system, can speak up without censorship or compromise; considering the severe backlash to a mere comment. This was prior to PAPs suggestion to forming an alternative party within its ranks to supposedly voice out dissent; amidst claims of opening up.

Dr Amy Khor promised she will not be silenced despite being reprimanded and one can only hope she keeps to her word.

On another level of interpretation, the 10 PAP women MPs or women activists in general, should not be contented with tackling womens issues or taking a backseat when it comes to other matters. If the PAP women MPs think they can only excel in politics with regards to women issues, then I worry about their calls for more women to join the PAP.

In a patriarchal society like Singapore where women are defined by rigid mores, there is a greater need for them to critically examine their roles and responsibilities. They need to understand that being in politics does not necessarily means sacrificing love for their family or children.

Women activists need to set their own goals and agenda instead of listening to the big boys. Their roles within committees or meetings should not be merely advisory or consultative, but having an equal say and vote. They should be allowed to contribute outside gender issues including important topics in national defense and the economy.

Rosa Luxemburg

The female PAP MPs collective act reminds me of a German film, Rosa Luxemburg, which I saw recently on video. Directed by Margarethe Von Trotta in 1986, and starring Barbara Sukowa as the great socialist democrat pro peace Polish feminist, I was very much inspired and touched by Rosas unwavering passion for democracy and the rights of the working class.

Even though she was considered a communist, she believes in democracy; and was remarkable for being able to think for herself and defy the big boys when she knew they were wrong.

Rosa was so unorthodox that Lenin was critical of her writings, who considered them as underestimating nationalist ideology, underrating the role of the Communist party, and putting too much emphasis on mass action.

Equally critical of Lenin in ‘Organisationsfragen der russischen Sozialdemokraten’ (1904), she believed that no real socialism can exist without democracy. Stalinists considered her as dangerous as Trotsky’s. Her collected works did not appear until 1970-75 in German Democratic Republic (DDR).

Her writings withstood time. When Marxism lost its appeal by the 1980s, feminist theorists are still interested in her works, though she was never associated with the cause when she was alive. Rosa did however believed that women needs to be involved in politics.

Her courage and oratorical skills were as admirable as any of her male counterparts. Starting her revolutionary activities at an early age of 16, Rosa was so notorious that she had to exile from Poland. She was known to give rousing speeches and her journalistic skills in her early years were put to good use when she started writing on politics. Between 1892 and 1919, she produced almost 700 articles, pamphlets, speeches, and books.

Always standing up for her ideas, she fell out with moderate German socialists (who were mostly men), and found with Karl Liebknecht the radical Spartacus League in 1916. She drafted the Spartacists programme Leits?ze which became the German Communist Party two years later. Before that, Rosa was already a leader, one of the important figures in Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania.

Despite being a full time socialist democracy fighter, Rosa was in touch with her feelings and had numerous lovers. She was imprisoned countless times. In 1906 she was arrested in Warsaw but released on health grounds. She was also jailed for an extensive period during World War I.

Her ending was typical of most brave revolutionaries. After being arrested by the german soldiers together with Liebknecht at the height of German nationalism in 1919, they were both shot while being transported to prison; and bodies thrown into the Landwehr canal. Their corpses were found in May and, along with other assassinated revolutionaries, Luxemburg was buried on June 13 in Friedrichsfeld cemetery.

Afterthoughts

Whether you agree with Rosas ideological thoughts, she was a brave women who entered politics and fought as hard; if not, harder then the men.

From her, women activists should learn not to let gender differences become a barrier when pursuing alternative politics. They have to be able to think critically of our system. The pursuit of liberal democracy in Singapore is not and must not be left to the hands of a single elite or gender.