SCW Correspondence with the Governor, 1953

Letter to the Governor

Governor's Reply

Letter to the Governor

Singapore Women's Council

352-A Tanjong Katong Road


5th May 1953

The Governor in Council through the Colonial Secretary Singapore

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the Council of Women, in Singapore, we have the honour to submit the following for your sympathetic consideration:-

Having studied the prevalent social conditions: under which the women in Singapore live, a number of us invited the progressive women of this city and brought into existence the Singapore Council of Women as in other countries. A copy of our aims and objects is enclosed herewith for your information.

About two years ago, an attempt was made by Mr. Laycock to introduce, legislation to prevent marriages of girls under sixteen. This piece of legislation was attacked by men on the grounds of custom and religion, although it was supported by a majority of women in Singapore. There are instances of girls aged sixteen years who have been divorced three and four times. In matters of divorce also women have been the sufferers - no excuse need be, rendered and the woman herself need not be informed.

One particular woman had been divorced for four months and she subsisted without either intimation of the divorce or maintenance.(Refer Straits Times 2/3/52)

The Chinese too have very lax marriage laws which permit polygamy (Refer Straits Times 29/4/52). Not even a formal ceremony is required to bring the second and subsequent wives into the home, and these secondary wives are expected to share in the man's property and are protected by law. In this connection we would like to quote from the last convocation address delivered by Dr. Chan Su Lan wherein he stated that "Malaya cannot build a nation when its intelligentsia tolerated the continued recognition by law of the notorious 'Six Widows Case'. The emergency can be lengthened indefinitely when the majority of our women are illiterate and susceptible to the persuasion which encourages promiscuity under the guise of sex equality, as a substitute for the sanctity of marriage and the permanency and inviolability of the home."

Enlightened women in every progressive country have co-operated and encouraged their government to move along the path of reforms and progress.

The Singapore Council of Women seeks to obtain reforms along the lines defined by our Council and requests that the government introduce legislation which would prevent such laxity of marriage laws and implement the existing laws so that any woman in this country may in future enjoy the same marital privileges and rights as are enjoyed by women in other British Dominions .

In asking for these legal and human rights for women we are acting in accordance with the provisions of the Human Rights Charter of the U.N.O, to which Her Majesty's Government is a signatory. The Commission of Human Rights has pledged itself "to raise the Status of Women . . . and to eliminate all discriminations against women in provisions of Statutory Law under maxims or rules or interpretations of customary law".

When the Government takes a sincere interest in the welfare of its people and metes out justice impartially to all who seek shelter under its flag and redress all wrongs then it secures the loyalty and trust and pride of the people in their government. Two thousand years ago in Rome, Cicero orated that, "In the middle of the forum of Messina a Roman citizen, [1/2] O judges, was beaten with rods! While in the meantime no groan was heard and no other expression from this wretched men yet amid all his pain and between the sounds of the blows he asserted, 'I am a citizen of Rome'. He fancied that by this one statement of his citizenship he could ward off all blows and remove all tortures from his person." Cicero would not permit a single Roman citizen to suffer injustice and cruelty in any part of the world. Today can we permit it to be said that under the protection of the British Crown there are thousands of married women who have no protection of the British Law.

Shirin Fozdar

Hon. Gen. Secretary

Governor's Reply

No. CSO. 2413/53/17

Colonial Secretary's Office

Singapore 6

27th July, 1953

The President,

Singapore Women's Council,

352-A, Tanjong Katong Road,



With reference to your petition to the Governor in Council dated the 5th May, 1953, on the subject of the introduction of legislation to safeguard the rights and privileges of women in Singapore, I am directed to inform you that the matters of which the Singapore Women's Council complains are, in the main, the result of religious and customary observances, changes in which are normally to be obtained not by the introduction of legislation, but by the persuasion of the leaders of the communities concerned of the need for reforms.

2. I am, however, to inform you that Government will be pleased to consider any specific amendments to the present legislation which the Singapore Women's Council my have in mind and which in the opinion of the Council may prove advantageous in ameliorating the conditions and status of women of the domiciled communities.

I am, Madam,

Your obedient servant,

L.C. GOH for Colonial Secretary, Singapore.

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Last modified: 25 April 2001