March 2009. When 100 strangers arrive at a run-of-the-mill meeting for Singapore gender-equality group AWARE, long-time members sense that something is wrong. Who are the mysterious women wresting control of this respected volunteer organisation? And what disturbing secret unites them? What happens next becomes the stuff of national legend: starting with an astonishing coup and culminating in an extraordinary declaration of equality and justice. Welcome to the AWARE Saga.
Saga is a limited-series podcast hosted by acclaimed former journalist Bharati Jagdish.
March 2009. When 100 strangers arrive at a run-of-the-mill meeting for Singapore gender-equality group AWARE, long-time members sense that something is wrong. Who are the mysterious women wresting control of this respected volunteer organisation? And what disturbing secret unites them? What happens next becomes the stuff of national legend: starting with an astonishing coup and culminating in an extraordinary declaration of equality and justice. Welcome to the AWARE Saga. Saga is a limited-series podcast hosted by acclaimed former journalist Bharati Jagdish. The first two episodes premiere on 9 December 2020.
1 min 46 sec
The newcomers running for election at AWARE unsettle older members with their strangely hollow stump speeches. Who could have predicted this 24 years prior, when the organisation was founded? AWARE’s iconic early leaders made their names campaigning against sexist laws and societal norms. Yet in 2009, activity is slow, with many members burnt out and distracted. And what seemed like a rejuvenating injection of new blood is looking more and more like a coup.
42 min 27 sec
28 March 2009: Singapore’s leading gender-equality group, AWARE, is holding its Annual General Meeting, with the organisation’s members voting to elect a new executive committee. However, when dozens of mysterious new members arrive—tight-lipped women who rebuff the welcoming gestures of AWARE veterans—what should be a run-of-the-mill gathering reveals itself to be anything but.
33 min 26 sec
As AWARE’s exco election comes to a disquieting end, an impromptu Google search on the names of new members gives veteran member Joo Hymn chills. The results provide an important clue about a controversial ideology that many of the newcomers seem to share—an ideology that reared its head in national discourse only a few years prior, during a pivotal battle for LGBT rights.
39 min 18 sec
Who are the women on AWARE’s new executive committee? Is its new president—Connie’s own chosen heir—part of a deeper conspiracy to take over the association? In the aftermath of the Annual General Meeting, long-time AWARE members—the “Old Guard”—struggle to make sense of what happened. And as the media begin to dig into the story, the Old Guard face a momentous decision that will seriously test their resolve.
42 min 43 sec
Word gets out that most of AWARE’s new exco attend the same church—one known for its conservative views on sexuality and gender. But what does that have to do with AWARE? Perhaps some answers are to be found in the history of Christianity in Singapore… and how the religion has existed, both peacefully and contentiously, within the multi-cultural state.
42 min 32 sec
Cracks start to show in the New Guard’s relationships with the staff at the AWARE Centre. Between the exco’s obvious unfamiliarity with the organisation, actions that compromise the well-being of clients, and strange fascination with certain programmes, tensions rise quickly. Meanwhile, the Old Guard rally the troops for a requisition. Will they find enough allies to see it through?
41 min 48 sec
AWARE’s new president, Josie, launches a publicity campaign to defend the New Guard against mounting criticism, boycotts and even threats, from a public hungry for answers about the group’s intentions. Will her PR attempts work? Then, things come to a head at the AWARE Centre with a dramatic face-off between both sides.
38 min 39 sec
Surprise! At an astounding press conference, the New Guard reveal their true leader: the woman who conceived of and organised the AWARE takeover. Together with this mentor, the group finally explain the series of events that put AWARE on their radar—the supposedly scandalous practices of the organisation’s former leadership which, they say, must be stopped at all costs.
53 min 44 sec
Both sides ready themselves for battle with AWARE’s Extraordinary General Meeting in sight. Harnessing a huge team of volunteers, the Old Guard prepare to give their all, though the emotional toll of the saga is catching up to them. At the 11th hour, they face a logistical twist from the New Guard. Will a ballsy stratagem be enough to save them? Or will the Singapore government prove an unlikely ally?
47 min 50 sec
The day of reckoning arrives: the Extraordinary General Meeting to determine the fate of AWARE. With more than 3,000 attendees in the Suntec City Exhibition Hall, the energy and excitement are off the charts. After the New Guard make their case for the last time, the vote of no confidence in the current exco takes place. Which side will prevail?
55 min 39 sec
A young woman who believes in the right to choose. A sitcom actress risking her public persona for the sake of her principles. A former police officer who wishes his daughters could be there, too. Midway through the AWARE EGM, members new and old stand up and speak out about the takeover, LGBT rights, feminism and more. Together, they make one of the most powerful assertions of Singaporean democracy in recent memory.
50 min 9 sec
More than a decade since the events of the AWARE Saga, their lasting impact has rippled outwards in so many ways. But while the results of the fateful 2009 EGM were decisive, is it clear which side truly won? With the emergence of new movements and new slogans, new technologies and new generations, are the ideological fault lines in Singapore society continuing to widen? And if so, how can we heal them?
1 hr 2 min
Saga’s theme music was composed and performed by weish and din of the Singaporean band .gif.
A Saga bonus episode: On 4 May 2019 - 10 years and 2 days after the fateful Extraordinary General Meeting – 100 AWARE members came together to mark the anniversary of that pivotal event. Amid the celebration, a few key Old Guard members and supporters—including Constance Singam, Siew Kum Hong and Teo You Yenn—gave speeches about what the Saga meant to them and to Singapore. Here are some highlights from their remarks.
22 min 17 sec