Gender equality still tops Aware's agenda

Gender equality still tops Aware's agenda
Ms Corinna Lim (centre) with Aware programmes and communications senior manager Jolene Tan (left) and support services manager Sheena Kanwar at the Aware headquarters. The group now has 500 members and 300 volunteers. Ms Loh says she thinks the changes made since 2009 should help see Aware through its next 30 years.

When outsiders seized control of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) six years ago, it seemed like the gender equality group's darkest hour.

Yet that event turned out to be just what it needed.

"Aware had been getting more and more tired," recalled executive director Corinna Lim. Energy was running low. New members and leaders were hard to find.

Ms Lim herself was then a corporate lawyer and a dormant member.

Then came the power grab at the annual general meeting of March 2009.

A group of mostly Christian newcomers swept the executive committee, in a plan motivated by disapproval of what they perceived to be Aware's position on homosexuality and a sexuality education programme it ran in schools.

In response, long-time members and new allies rallied around Aware's "old guard".

Membership swelled, culminating in an extraordinary general meeting where a vote of no confidence was passed on the new leadership.

After the society was reclaimed successfully, the momentum remained. "We had a second wind," said Ms Lim, 50.

Aware took steps right away to run a tighter ship. The Constitution was amended to prevent power grabs, with a new two-year minimum before members can stand for election. A nominations committee now looks for and vets potential leaders.

Ms Lim herself was hired as Aware's first executive director in 2010.

Today, all its plans are for expansion: building ties with other organisations, offering more training programmes, and doing more outreach.

Membership peaked at 3,000 in the lead-up to the 2009 EGM, but after the old guard returned, the numbers fell again. "But it did bring us members who stayed," noted Ms Lim.

Aware now has 500 members and 300 volunteers, twice the numbers before the 2009 AGM. It has 16 full-time staff members, compared with just six before. And its net assets stand at $2.4 million, six times the previous $400,000.

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