Celebrate civil society activists

The Straits Times, Nov 9, 2017

by Melody Zaccheus
Heritage and Community Correspondent

A new book chronicling decades of civil society activism, launched on Sunday, details the efforts of 37 diverse activists who have campaigned for marginalised groups and championed niche but worthy causes.

Among some of the successes of the community: Removing a ruling that the bodies of Aids sufferers must be cremated within 24 hours of dying, and the ground-up efforts to save Chek Jawa, an inter-tidal habitat on Pulau Ubin, from reclamation for military use in 2002.

And when the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore lacked a 24-hour hotline for the public to report illegal wildlife trade, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society launched one of its own. Today, it handles 700 wildlife rescue cases each month.

Within the heritage sphere, groups such as All Things Bukit Brown have stuck their necks out for the retention of the 1922 cemetery.

The book also traces the development of civil society across other issues such as ageing, culture and faith, health, human rights and the rights of sex workers and women.

In addition, it pays homage to older achievements, including the Singapore Council of Women's pivotal role in bringing about the progressive Women's Charter in 1961, which greatly improved the socio-economic and legal status of women and families here.

The publication is clear evidence that advocacy has a place here.

It also showcases the journeys and struggles of activists who attempted to speak up for the voiceless segments of society.

As Nominated MP and Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun, who contributed to the book, said, it is the duty of existing activists to encourage other Singaporeans and citizens "not just to think for themselves, but others as well".

It is time to celebrate such activists.