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AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry

AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry

Make a stand

Text: Tracy Phillips

Editor: Crystal Lee


Image: Facebook | Inch Chua

AWARE's steady advocacy for women's rights and gender equality continues to be a driving force for positive change in Singapore. Through constant research, lobbying, education, training, and support services, the last year had seen major changes to policies across a wide range of issues. These included the removal of marital immunity for rape, the decriminalisation of suicide from the Penal Code after years of campaigning, more inclusive housing policies for single unmarried parents, and the raising of childcare subsidies for lower-income families.

To carry out their vital work — which consists of running a women's helpline that receives thousands of callers every year and operating the country's only Sexual Assault Care Centre that offers dedicated support for sexual violence survivors of all ages and genders — AWARE is organising a fundraiser like no other. First held in 2010, the Superwomen in Concert is making a return on April 10, with the biggest female entertainers in Singapore across three generations performing at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Directed by Pam Oei and hosted by Nikki Muller and Beatrice Chia-Richmond, the star-studded line-up features legends Stefanie Sun, Rahimah Rahim, and Joanna Dong as headliners. The cast of personalities involved run the gamut of music genres, theatre and comedy: Aisyah Aziz, Alemay Fernandez, RRILEY, Narelle Kheng, Inch Chua, Lynnette Seah, Lady Kash, Heema, Maya and Lazmin Zainudin, Sheena Seah and Jade Riccio, Sharul Channa, Siti Khalijah Zainal, and the Dim Sum Dollies make up the full line-up.

We spoke to some of these talented women to find out more about their own experiences with gender equality, who are the superwomen in their lives, and how they feel about being part of the show.

Inch Chua, singer-songwriter and artist

AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry (фото 1)

What has been your personal experience when it comes to gender equality?
The music industry is a very male-dominated environment. I find myself going through greater scrutiny and scepticism with my trade skills or a complete dismissal of my capabilities. Often, it takes a lot for people to take your ideas seriously. I remember several times when the sound engineer ignored my opinion and spoke to my male collaborators instead when I was in the studio. Having good allies help, but more importantly, focus on building a quiet confidence and enjoy being underestimated.

What do you think is the role of men and what can they do to help with gender equality within your industry?
Being aware of the systemic issues and recognising their male privilege would be the first and most helpful step forward. Most people I know who are informed tend to be more considerate and more observant of these dynamics. I believe one's natural convictions will motivate action, so we need to nurture that muscle of conviction instead of enforcing obligation.

How do you feel about being part of this all-women line-up?
AWARE is an organisation that has done such great work. I'm over the moon to be able to be a part of it. This line-up is truly stellar and I'm looking forward to watching it as much as performing in it.

Who is a Superwoman to you?
My mother is a single parent and a breast cancer survivor. Amazing doesn't even cut it for her.

Siti Khalijah Zainal, actress

AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry (фото 2)

What has been your personal experience when it comes to gender equality?
I'm very lucky to be working in an environment where I don't have to face discrimination of any sort. The industry I work in is very inclusive. Everyone is open to whatever gender and sexuality, and I feel comfortable to also speak my mind as a woman.

What do you think is the role of men and what can they do to help with gender equality within your industry?
Help speak up to other men who see women as lesser-than-capable creatures; who don't believe that women can and will make it. It doesn't make them less manly. If anything, it makes them manlier.

How do you feel about being part of this all-women line-up?
I feel so empowered! The range (of personalities) in this line-up is crazy amazing. I'm looking forward to seeing Rahimah Rahim do her thing on stage! She's a living Singaporean legend, and after all these years, she still has it!

Who is a Superwoman to you?
A superwoman is someone who goes above and beyond for her loved ones. She is willing to fight a war for them, at her own expense, even if it means inconveniencing herself so that others will not need to experience the same challenges she had gone through.

Narelle Kheng, artist

AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry (фото 3)

What has been your personal experience when it comes to gender equality?
Growing up in a patriarchal household without strong female influences, I didn't fully understand the concept of feminism. In fact, there were points in my life where I wanted to be a guy instead, because I figured I would be more respected. I knew I wanted to become a force to be reckoned with, a powerhouse, but I'd constantly joke about just getting married off — like, "a guy will take care of me."

I struggled with that for a long time, even when we were The Sam Willows. I was eighteen and coming into this industry filled with white men in suits who wouldn't give you the time of day. Their attention would always be focused on the guys. To them, we were just the supporting cast. However, as time went on, I realised that nobody gives you handouts. Especially as a creative, I knew I had to push for what was mine, regardless of how the world works. Women can do a lot more, and I'm only beginning to figure out what that means for me.

Just this past year, I've begun exploring the feminine energy and allowing those aspects of myself to flourish and to grow to be more proud of myself as a woman. I now know that feminism as a movement is extremely important because women are amazing. And I would love for young girls to know that they don't have to resign themselves to just being another pretty face and that they're worth a lot more than that.

What do you think is the role of men and what can they do to help with gender equality within your industry?
I think it's the same as when it comes to race: how we should not talk over minorities or be a voice for them. We should instead consciously note what we can do to make things better, and play a supporting role for their cause instead. Men should push the limelight towards women, instead of standing in the front and saying, "I support women" because that defeats the purpose. It's something that a lot of men do.

How do you feel about being part of this all-women line-up?
The best thing about being part of this is that I'm surrounded by strong female voices and energy. In my life, I don't have a lot of that, and I'm just excited to be around women who can squeal, and laugh, and be impractical — people who approach the concert with a lot of emotion, whether it's to cry or understand the weight of what they're doing. I'm very proud to be involved, and I can't wait to learn from the group, especially someone like Pam Oei, who is leading this project. I'm excited about everything that is going to happen at the event; I'm looking forward to all of it.

Who is a Superwoman to you?
A superwoman is a woman who has faced a lot of challenges and risen above it. Someone who has been put down but refuses to stay down. Someone who stays strong and is secure in their womanly values. Someone who doesn't abide by archaic patriarchal systems, and is proud to be who she is without pretending to be someone else. Those are superwomen.

Sharul Channa, stand-up comedian, actress, creator

AWARE's Superwomen in Concert 2020: Local artists and performers on gender equality in the entertainment industry (фото 4)

What has been your personal experience when it comes to gender equality?
I think gender equality has been a long and hard struggle, but as society in Singapore and around the world are becoming more 'AWARE', things are slowly but surely changing. I think women have been treated as second-class citizens throughout time and history, and the excuse has always been they have only been good for procreation. How is that a weakness, but the biggest strength and honour any human being can achieve? It is a blessing to be able to give birth. The fact that women do so much more, I think she should be prayed to. Everyday. Today!

As you know, stand-up comedy as a profession is overcrowded with men! The trick is to join the system to fight with it internally. I believe that we should become so good that no one can ignore us. I try to do that every day as a stand-up comedian. The men in the scene have been generally been inclusive, but it took time for society to understand that women can go up and speak their minds, too. You have to educate your audience each time you jump up.

What do you think is the role of men and what can they do to help with gender equality within your industry?
I think men should try to create a safe environment for women to work in. They should keep their sexism in check and be inclusive. Whether it is in stand-up or the corporate office, the same rules apply.

How do you feel about being part of this all-women line-up? 
I think the best part of this team is that each woman in this line-up is so amazing and inspirational that I feel being around them will make me so enthralled and electrified. Honestly, I am looking forward to all the performances! All!

Who is a Superwoman to you?
She is one that stands up for her fellow women: in tough times to fight the good fight, to push for equality of the sexes, and, even if pitted against each other, being gracious about it all.

AWARE's 35th-anniversary fundraiser Superwomen in Concert is on 10 April 2020 at Esplanade Concert Hall.

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