what is feminism? – Constance Singam

“Over time several different strands of feminism have emerged. So, there is no one feminism, but many.” Constance Singam gives some opening pointers on the definition of feminism. 

The story of feminism and the women’s movement is a global as well as a local story. It has a Western lineage as well as an Asian one. It is about all women; it is also an individual woman’s story. It has a long history, but it also has current relevance.

Over time several different strands of feminism have emerged. So, there is no one feminism, but many. 


When an individual woman’s experiences – in her culture, religion, the circumstances of her public life, her status within her community – place her at a disadvantage and she becomes aware of this as unfair, she is a feminist. The Indian feminist Kamla Bhasin defines a feminist as a person (man or woman) “who recognises the existence of sexism (discrimination on the basis of gender), male domination and patriarchy, and takes action”.

Feminism in the global context

In the modern world, [feminist] movements typically emerged in conjunction with other social or political movements such as the movement to end slavery in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century or nationalist movements in colonised Asian and African countries in the twentieth century.

Why the focus on women? 

It is not only women who are oppressed. But when women are oppressed or discriminated against because they are women, then feminism is very relevant.

Constance Singam was President of AWARE in 1987-88, 1994-5, and 2007-8. In the last 30 years, she has worked on behalf of women’s rights and migrant workers’ rights. She has been described as the “mother of civil society”,  an inspirational leader who spearheaded many of the projects and initiatives that shaped Singapore’s civil society, and which continue to do so.

Arora, Mandakini, ed. Small Steps, Giant Leaps: A History of AWARE and the Women’s Movement in Singapore. Association of Women for Action and Research, 2007.


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