The Secretary's Report to the General Meeting of the Singapore Council of Women held at the Y.W.C.A. 1/6/57

[Shirin Fozdar]

Since the last general meeting of the Singapore Council of Women which was held at the Y.W.C.A we are able to report progress in our efforts with the Malays. Our persistent nagging, correspondence in the papers as well as appeals to the Muslim advisory Board, we have succeeded in arousing the Muslims to the realization of the fact that some move had to be made in putting a stop to the easy and frivolous divorces among that community. We did not hesitate to have this matter brought before the House of Commons and questions asked in that House about the shocking rate of divorces among the Malays.

This kind of adverse publicity given this problem compelled the Muslim advisory Board to wake up. This board recommended to the government to introduce a Bill seeking to establish a Muslim religious Court before which all the disputed divorces would be tried. The husband, therefore, will not get away with impunity by just pronouncing the divorce. The Legislative assembly has passed the Bill and now we are waiting to hear soon about the establishment of that court. Another clause very favourable in that Bill is the compulsory division of property according to Islamic law whereby Muslim girls also inherit the property of their father. In the past the Malay girls of this country were not so fortunate to share in the father's inheritance.

As for the position of Chinese women although our agitation in the Chinese papers have created a lot of awakening among the Chinese people yet the legal position of Chinese marriages still remains the same. After having drafted the Monogamous Marriage Bill for the Chinese, we approached members of different political parties to introduce the Bill, but are sorry to report that all our tall talking politicians were found wanting in moral courage. One prominent Chinese member of the Legislative Assembly thought that this problem was not so burning, but within a few months he encouraged the formation of another Women's Organisation with the same aims and objects as our own with the additional aim of seeing Merdeka. The secretary of that Organisation approached us with the request that we join them, but her request was turned down, although she was assured by us that if she and her co-workers were sincere in their desire to help the women, they could easily join our Women's Council and work with us. This advice was not appreciated and she went ahead with the formation of a rival body. She succeeded in getting many of our members to join her. Ultimately the government finding the activities of the other organization subversive, banned it. This kind of rivalry did not help the Women's Cause, but hampered our work also because many people did not help the Women's Cause, but hampered our work because many people out of ignorance got confused and were under the impression that our Council had been banned.

During the year appeals to ameliorate the condition of women in the Federation were sent out by us to all the Sultans and heads of religious bodies. We have received replies from some of them promising to look into the matter.

In order to carry on the work more vigorously we need to have capable and courageous women on our Executive Committee, who wholeheartedly support our ideals and are not afraid of criticism. We have also learnt by experience that the men in this country are not at all eager to change the prevalent order of things or permit the curtailment of their rights. It is essential, therefore, that women be elected on the Legislative Council and introduce legislation favourable to women and safeguarding their interests.

In conclusion we take the opportunity of thanking all those men and women, who have supported our move publicly or privately. We wish to assure them that every effort will be made to change the inequalities existing between the sexes in order to create an atmosphere of stability, love, harmony and confidence, in homes.

Our efforts may appear slow because the task is too great. It entails a revolutionary change in the outlook of men, who have for ages been accustomed to enjoy their undeserved supremacy, but we are confident of our success as women all the world over are marching and have proved themselves to be equals of men if not their superiors.

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Last modified: 25 April 2001