CNM-CARE Research Talk: Rethinking Censorship In An Age of Authoritarian Resilience- Presented By Professor Cherian George


Most discussions on media freedom implicitly contrast it to totalitarian control. While it is intuitively appealing to think of liberty as the opposite of tyranny, this binary framework does not help us understand how today’s authoritarian regimes sustain themselves. Integrating empirical research on censorship practices, this presentation considers how media policies contribute to authoritarian resilience, with a particular focus on Asia, including Singapore. Although not ideologically opposed to spectacularly repressive methods, many states have shifted to stealthier forms of censorship. They also apply differential levels of censorship, allowing selective liberalisation to enhance their legitimacy among publics and co-opt large segments of the media and culture industries, while stifling communication that would potentially challenge their political dominance.


Cherian George is professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He researches media and politics, including freedom of expression, censorship and hate propaganda. He is currently working on a book on media and power in Southeast Asia for Cambridge University Press. His previous books include Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy (MIT Press, 2016), and Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore (NUS Press, 2012).

28 March 2018
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS4, #01-19

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Thoughts On CARE’s Dialogue On Sexual Violence

Written by Ms Raksha Kirpal Mahtani |

The CARE talk on Sexual Violence aimed to look at how communications impacts on concepts of sexual violence, promotes education on the legal measures available to those who have suffered sexual assaults and connects support services for the survivors of sexual assaults.

Dr Asha Rathina Pandi, from CARE and a CNM lecturer, opened the Dialogue session, sharing her thoughts on how society has evolved that today there are more culturally responsive ways to formulating and coordinating responses, finding solutions on sexual assaults that are survivor-centric. Dr Asha also highlighted the usefulness of a campaign such as #MeToo[1] that has raised awareness to sexual violence when talking about sex is still a taboo subject. She then introduced the speakers on the panel.

CARE Activist-in-Residence, Ms Braema Mathi’s presentation was entitled “Time is Up.The Truth. The Action”. She opened the discussion with definitions of sexual violence, as articulated by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, CEDAW[2], WHO (World Health Organisation) and in Singapore laws. She highlighted that WHO’s definition takes into account  ‘coercion’[3], which goes further than ascertaining if sex was consensual or non-consensual. This development in definition is a response to how sexuality is expressed today where there is high digitisation, access to date-drugs and clear displays of diverse sexual behaviours. She added that sexual violence is a package, with physical and psychological violence, that impacts the person.

To show how change had come about, Ms Braema gave a historical overview from how women were treated as ‘properties’ of men. Many men still see themselves today as heads of households, in societies, at workplaces. Societies are still patriarchal and objectify women. Social media has opened doors to greater sexual experimentation where women, men, girls and boys are often no longer sure where the boundaries are and risk getting caught out by their own actions. Ms Braema also shared how women were treated in conflicts, referring to stories of gang rapes of Rohingya women. She said the UN has played a role in normalizing the work to protect especially women, against violence. She said that over almost 40 years, UN agreed to 3 General Recommendations (GR) [4] that were added to CEDAW to request countries under the State Obligation principle, to be focused on preventing violence against women, girls, boys, men, protection of persons and prosecution for perpetrators. These changes have come about through time because of the many voices, the lobbying of survivors, activists, lawyers, journalists, care workers, academics, celebrities, leaders who have spoken up and fought for social change. In February, popular actress Oprah Winfrey supported the #MeToo Campaign and said Time is Up for the silence and for those accused.

Globally, more than a third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted. But 70 per cent of assaults go unreported. Ms Braema added that  “anyone and everyone” – women, girls, boys, men, infants, older persons, LBGTs, infants, sex workers, trafficked persons into the sex industry, migrant workers – can be and have been sexually assaulted in their everyday lives or have been targeted in conflicts and acts of vengeance. Certain communities are more vulnerable to sexual violence, because of their nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups, cultures, social classes, work status (factory floor workers, foreign domestic workers, aid workers, journalists), social status (drug addicts, homeless, bohemian, refugees). In Singapore, police data shows that almost each day there is a reported case of a sexual assault. Between 2012 and 2016, there were 325 cases of sexual assaults against women, and abuse of girls aged fewer than 16[5].

The truth is that communications to effect change, has to go on, for sustainable long-term prevention of sexual violence, through knowledge-sharing and accepting gender equality. She raised a few questions:

  • how successful is the #MeToo campaign as response rates in Asia seem to be low?
  • how sustainable is the success from an involved campaign that took place in India 5-years ago, in support of Nirbhaya[6], a 23-year-old who died from a severe gang rape that included rod penetrations that punctured internal organs?
  • how successful is the lobbying by the WW II South Korean comfort women, now in their late 80s, who stand, every day, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, asking for an apology?
  • how to successfully handle certain cultural and religious beliefs on female genital mutilation and child marriages, to show that these are sexual assault practices against children?

In closing, Ms Braema, reiterated on barriers and the silence on talking about sexual violence, reminding the audience of 35 students to think how they could advocate for survivors to receive protection and assistance they need, and also prevent of sexual assaults through sustainable communications and gender mainstreaming approach in education.

The second talk by practicing defence lawyer Ms Gloria James-Civetta, was entitled Justice & Legislation: Improvements, Protection & Challenges related to Sexual Harassment. Leveraging her experience working with families, women reporting family violence, women reporting sexual harassment and assaults, amongst other cases, Ms Gloria framed her dialogue on how the legal context on sexual assault laws works, as governed by the Women’s Charter and Penal Code in Singapore.

She highlighted a case where a Singaporean woman was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend overseas, citing that Singaporean courts are limited by jurisdictional issues in that they cannot rule on crimes overseas when it comes to sexual assault. She also illustrated on how diversity in legal definitions on sexual assaults posed challenges. Some countries recognise ‘consent’ as a touchstone point to determine if a sexual assault had taken place. But other countries required a concomitant physical assault (or beating) to take place before the event could be recognised as a rape. In addition, socio-cultural norms also make it a challenge to legally defend a client as there can be a normalisation of certain types of sexual assault, which makes it acceptable. For example ‘petting on the butt’ is not seen culturally as a sexual assault in some societies. As such women who feel violated will find it hard to prove that there is sexual assault, much as the lawyers too, will find it difficult to use the law as an asset to argue the case for sexual assault. She also shared that in cases of incest it is also very difficult for the girl, as she would not wish to break up the family or see her parent or relative in jail. There is also limited protection on marital rape.

Ms Gloria also expanded on the contexts in which sexual assaults happen. ‘Couch sharing’ apps have led to more women reporting to lawyers on harassments, threats, and extortions they experience. Others have shared their experiences of sexual assaults through ‘upskirt’ mobile phone video-ing, web-based nudity, cybersex, and self-pleasure videos. These are the new norms of sexual violence, with women and girls bearing the brunt of the sexual assaults. She also shared that legally it is a challenge, in some of these cases, to prove that a person has been sexually assaulted, as there is an equal contestation by the lawyer of the accused. Ms Gloria said it is very important to share the details, without feeling shy or embarrassed, so that lawyers can try their best within the ambit of the law.

She also highlighted that the prosecution has the prerogative to compound the offence – or decline to prosecute – which can put an end to the matter. There is limited precedence for civil action on criminal offences such as sexual assaults, which greatly limits the options that survivors have, even when they seek legal help and do report. She shared the various laws to show how definitions and articles do scope the work to prove sexual assaults, especially where the burden of proof for criminal cases is very high i.e. ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

Ms Gloria said that it was important to remember that the path to recovery is multi-faceted, and the person may require different avenues of seeking closure and support, counselling, and medical assistance. What is needed, she said, is to take on a holistic approach. In her work with the Courts, she said, she has been working towards mental health treatment plans and alternative sentencing for non-contact sexual violence offenders. She stressed that there must be a joint effort and early interventions to truly address this important issue in Singapore. Service and care workers, who are majority women, often receive the brunt of sexual harassment.

The third speaker was Ms Jolene Tan, AWARE’s Head of Research and Advocacy, whose presentation was titled Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence. AWARE’s women’s helpline started in the 1990s. In 2014, it set up the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), a groundbreaking development in AWARE’s work, to support and care for survivors of sexual assault in Singapore.

AWARE’s data shows that many people have sought help, annually, through their general helpline. The SACC numbers are higher showing again that many women and girls do not report to the police. Ms Jolene stressed that, despite the challenges, there is at least one headline a day in the Straits Times on a sexual assault crime in Singapore. These are reported cases, the tip of the iceberg because sexual violence is grossly under-reported. She said Singapore has a lower level of awareness when it comes to recognising sexual assault as it happens. People tend to deny that sexual assault happens in Singapore because “we are wealthier, luckier, more developed, safe”. However, SACC saw higher reporting rates in its cases around the time of the #MeToo campaign.

What is more important is that more women and girls can talk to SACC about their sexual assault experiences and not be putt of by comments such as “it’s a one-off incident”, “not serious”, “were you drinking?”. She also said that reassuring women was important, as there are now more technology-aided crimes such as revenge porn, online harassment, and non-contact sexual assault.

What is needed, she added, is that sexual violence needs to be mainstreamed as something that happens in Singapore. She asked for a systematic sensitisation of the public, doctors, lawyers, police, counsellors that can dramatically change the context of a report.

AWARE also provides counselling, legal information, befriender services, and a support group for survivors. Jolene reiterated that having a centre called the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) was significant as it is an affirmation to survivors that their struggles are real, and that they are not alone in the recovery process. For some survivors, recovery is not always about reporting through the avenues provided by criminal justice system, but it may be through just listening, counselling, support, recognition, healthcare, and/or building community in which survivors can find reprieve.

Support Services available:

  1. Students have a hotline for counselling
  2. AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, Contact No: 6779 0282
  3. PAVE: Promoting Alternatives to Violence, Contact No: 6555 0390
  4. Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Child Protective Services Helpline, Contact No: 1800-7770000
  5. Trans Safe Centre, Contact No: 64499088


[2] CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women has been ratified by 188 countries, including Singapore, and is the fundamental anti-discriminatory Convention to give women their rights. CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

[3] Coercion, with regard to sexual violence, can cover a whole spectrum of degrees of force. Apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail or other threats – for instance, the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when the person being attacked is unable to give consent – for instance, while drunk, drugged, asleep or mentally incapable of understanding the situation;; www.;

[4] CEDAW’s General Recommendations (GR) 12( 1989), !9 ( 1992), 35 (2017) shows a constant need to bring about more awareness and protection to deal with violence, a constant social change by UN that is needed to reduce the prevalence of abuse. In GR 35, Article 14: “Gender-based violence affects women throughout their life cycleand accordingly references to women in this document include girls. This violence takes multiple forms, including acts or omissions intended or likely to cause or result in death18 or physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, threats of such acts, harassment, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.Gender-based violence against women is affected and often exacerbated by cultural, economic, ideological, technological, political, religious, social and environmental factors, as evidenced, among others, in the contexts of displacement, migration, increased globalization of economic activities including global supply chains, extractive and offshoring industry, militarisation, foreign occupation, armed conflict, violent extremism and terrorism. Gender-based violence against women is also affected by political, economic and social crises, civil unrest, humanitarian emergencies, natural disasters, destruction or degradation of natural resources. Harmful practices20 and crimes against women human rights defenders, politicians21, activists or journalists are also forms of gender-based violence against women affected by such cultural, ideological and political factors”.


[6] The victim of the Delhi gangrape case was renamed ‘Nirbhaya’ (Hindi for fearless) by Indian feminist activist groups to protect her identity, and her name and case later became a clarion call for social change and sexual assault law and policy reform in India.

CNM-CARE Research Talk: The Bandung Doctrine On Decolonisation- By Professor Kuan-Hsing Chen


The Bandung Conference transformed the global dynamics that had been shaped by imperialism and colonialism, breaking away from the binarism of socialist and capitalist ideals. And with the rapid ascent of nations like Africa, Asia, the Carribbean and Latin-America, the history of conquest can now be brought to light, examined and understood. Professor Kuan-Hsing Chen argues that this re-examination will lead to solidarity across all sectors. Only when programmes like Indonesia’s New Marine Time and China’s One Belt, One Road are understood through the lens of the Bandung spirit of decolonisation, can they be connected intellectually and politically. This not only demands a critical re-examination of histories, but also challenge existing modes of knowledge that were shaped by European colonisers for the past two hundred years.


A self-claimed Bandungist, Kuan-Hsing Chen works in the Center for Asia-Pacific Cultural Studies, Hsinchu. Founding Chair of the board of trustee for the Inter-Asia School (an international NPO). He taught in Chiao Tung University (2008-2017), Tsing Hua University (1990-2008) and has held (and is still having long term affiliation with) visiting professorships at universities in China, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the US.

28 Feb 2018
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS7, #01-06

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CNM-CARE Research Talk: Repositioning The World’s Health- By Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya


What is the World Health Organisation? Its Headquarters in Geneva? Or, is it a more dispersed international entity, which engages and deals with disparate polities in order to stay effective and relevant? In all this, how can we conceptualise the historic formation, underpinning negotiations and impact of the WHO Regional Offices, which are the legal entities that negotiate and work with national governments on a daily basis? Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya uses recent histories of international and global health projects to question a series of presumptions that continue to colonise scholarship about the value of the idea and work of a relatively small sets of actors. In so doing, he argues for the need for greater transparency and democracy in inter-sectoral partnerships that aims to improve global health and well-being.


Sanjoy Bhattacharya is Professor in the History of Medicine Department of History, University of York, UK. He studied at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi (India); Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India), and the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, UK). He is a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator working on the history and contemporary workings of Primary Health Care and the provision of Universal Health Coverage in South Asia. Sanjoy also continues to work on the histories of the worldwide eradication of smallpox, and the migration, experiences and contribution of South Asian doctors in the UK’s National Health Service.

1 March 2018
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM


Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS6, Lecture Theatre 14 (LT14)

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Block AS6, #03-33, CNM Meeting Room

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CARE Research Talk: Dialogue on Sexual Violence- Time Is Up. The Truth. The Action

In collaboration with the Centre for Culture-Centred Approaches on Research and Evaluation (CARE), NUS’ Department of Communications and New Media has invited thought-leaders to join an important dialogue that seeks to:

  • Deepen the understanding on sexual violence as it has occurred in the past and is also in the present context
  • Increase knowledge on the legal provisions to punish wrong-doers and to protect the survivors
  • Assess level of care, protection, commitment for survivors and processes of investigations and remedial work for wrong-doers
  • Examine the justness in what is being done and how it is communicated
  • Common sharing and appraisal of solutions such as #MeToo Campaign
  • Identify solutions for the future


1. Introduction and Opening Remarks

Dr Asha Rathina Pandi, Lecturer in the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore

Profile: Dr Asha Rathina Pandi is Lecturer in Communication and New Media at NUS. After completing her PhD in Sociology with University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2012, she was a Postdoctoral research fellow at Asia Research Institute and Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at NUS. At NUS, Asha teaches Culture and Communication, Strategic Communication and Communication for Social Change. Her research expertise is in the areas of Social movements, Social stratification and Inequality, Urban Sociology and Health Communication relating to marginalised populations, especially in the Southeast Asia region. She is passionate and committed in pursuing social justice and equity through her academic work.

Discussion Brief: Dr Rathina-Pandi will set the stage for the Dialogue on Sexual Violence. She will frame the discussion from the perspectives of communications and socialization of sexual violence in societies.

 2. On Sexual Violence and Social Change

Ms Braema Mathi, Activist-in Residence, CARE Programme in the Department of Communications and New Media at NUS

Profile: Ms Braema Mathi has been very involved in issues related to women, migrants and HIV. She has led AWARE, founded and led Transient Workers Count Too and founded and led MARUAH (Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism). She is also the Singapore CSO focal Point on ASEAN, representing MARUAH. She was also the Regional President (Southeast Asia and the Pacific) of the International Council of Social Welfare and Development. Miss Mathi has worked as a teacher, a journalist for The Straits Times, a researcher with the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS), in programme management, advocacy, research and corporate communications. Ms Mathi has contributed chapters, written research papers and many reports.

Discussion Brief: Ms Braema will discuss the forms of violence against women, girls, boys, men and people with diverse gender identities and/or sexual orientations. She will narrate how sexual violence was viewed in the past, discuss the current trends through new media, focus on definitions, forms, cultural context and the advocacy on sexual violence and social changes.

 3. The Law and Sexual Violence

Ms Gloria James-Civetta, Managing Partner of Gloria-James Civetta, a law firm

Profile: Ms Gloria James-Civetta has more than 20 years of legal experience. She is an advocate and solicitor, a barrister, a mediator and collaborative practice lawyer. In the course of her career in law, Gloria has gained considerable experience and knowledge in diverse areas of the law pertaining to Family Law, Criminal Law, Civil, Corporate and Commercial Law. Gloria has also has acquired skill sets in Mediation, Collaborative Practice and Litigation. She has kept up with the changing trends in our society and has been upgrading her skills and is a certified divorce coach.

Discussion Brief: Ms Gloria James-Civetta will address local laws, in how they protect victims and also bring violators to justice. She will share challenges in addressing specific forms of sexual violence and also address, if any, limitations.

 4. Supporting Victims, Public Education and Advocacy

Ms Jolene Tan, Head of Advocacy and Research at AWARE

Profile: Ms Jolene Tan is the Head of Advocacy & Research at AWARE. Her previous professional experience includes legal practice as well as work for a UK-based prison reform NGO. She co-founded No To Rape, the campaign against marital immunity for rape in Singapore. Her first novel, A CERTAIN EXPOSURE, was published by Epigram Books in 2014.

Discussion Brief: Ms Tan will speak on the kind of cases that AWARE sees, discuss the services available, the role of institutional and social environments in facilitating victim/survivor recovery and how an NGO is advocating improvements in the systems preventing and responding to sexual violence.


Dialogue Programme:

Item Time Subject matter
1. 1900-1915 Introduction: Dr Asha Rathina Pandi
2. 1915 -1930 Sexual Violence and Social Change: Ms Braema Mathi
3. 1930-1945 Justice, Legislation – Improvements, Protection and Challenges: Ms Gloria James-Civetta
4. 1945-2000 Support Services – Empowerment, Sustainability, Challenges: Ms Joleen Tan
6. 2000 -2025 Questions and Answers
8. 2025 – 2050 State of Sexual Violence – It is Time. The Truth. The Action
9. 2055-2100 Conclusion

13 February 2018
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
National University of Singapore
Blk AS6, #03-33, CNM Meeting Room

[How to get here]

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Welcoming Activist-In-Residence Braema Mathi

Miss Braema Mathi (Mathiaparanam) is a consultant on corporate communications, organisational development strategies for the non-profit sector, and in advocacy and research. She is hoping to pick up on writing again! She has been an advocate for social justice and will continue to work with young adults, on advocating on specific issues that they are interested in.
This interest in social justice has led her to become involved in issues related to women, migrants and HIV. She has led AWARE, founded and led Transient Workers Count Too, was the Vice-President of Action for Aids, and also founded and led MARUAH (Singapore Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism). She is also the Singapore focal Point for MARUAH in ASEAN and also on the Southeast Women’s Caucus. She was also the Regional President (Southeast Asia and Pacific) of the International Council of Social Welfare and AWARE‘s first Director of Research and Advocacy.
Ms Mathi has worked as: a teacher in an all boys’ school; a journalist for The Straits Times; a researcher with the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS); the head of the Communications department in a hospital; a Director of Programmes, and later Director of Advocacy, Research and Communications at ASEAN CSR Network. She is now a consultant on social issues, communication strategies and on organisational matters. She was also a Nominated Member of Parliament.
Her areas of expertise include advocacy strategies, communications toolkits, partnering the media, and advocating well on the changes needed to improve the workplace, the issues one is working on to effect change for better outcomes, using relevant tools in the spectrum of communications and advocacy tools.
She has published book chapters, articles and also written reports to and for organisations that include think-tanks in Southeast Asia and to the United Nations.

The Role of Indigenous Rights In Rainforest Preservation, Two Perspectives: Presented by Joe Lamb and Dr Jose Fragoso

WHY YOU NEED TO ATTEND: Indigenous groups in Sarawak, Malaysia, when faced with a large-scale development project that would displace thousands of people, and destroy large swathes of rainforest, launched a successful campaign to stop the construction of the Baram Dam. Learn how the land’s natives worked together with researchers from the University of California to propose alternative sources of energy that would be less costly, less fragile, and more efficient. The collaboration remains an example of how research can not only redefine the foundations of development that respects both human rights and the environment, but also amplify the voices of communities.

Date: 6 November 2017
Time: 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Venue: Research Division Seminar Room, Block AS7, #06-42, Shaw Foundation Building

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Call For Papers: Theorizing Communication from the South

Call for Papers: Communication Theory Special Issue

Theorizing Communication from the South

Guest Editors:
Mohan J. Dutta, National University of Singapore
Mahuya Pal, University of South Florida

In this special issue, we take forward emerging calls for decolonizing communication to explore communication theories anchored in the cartographies of the Global South. We encourage submissions that question assumptions regarding internationalization, de-Westernization, and globalization, along with other key concepts, and that consider new directions for approaches to theorizing communication. Submissions should engage with questions concerning the production of knowledge, the role of communication in global relations, and the potential for communication to contribute to advancing imaginaries of the Global South.

More information at: NUS Communications and New Media’s Official Blog

Malay Heart Health

A Straits Times article highlighted that Singaporean Malays faced a higher risk of heart conditions. The Malay Heart Health project was thus established to develop a community-centric heart health intervention. Solidly grounded in Culture-Centred Approach’s (CCA) communicative principles of participation and dialogue, the initiative was funded by the Singapore Heart Foundation. Proceeding from the central CCA tenet that communities are in the best position to identify their problems and the concomitant solutions rooted in cultural meanings of health, the team conducted:

  • 60 in-depth interviews with community members
  • 50 hours of participant observations
  • 12 advisory board meetings
  • 6 focus group sessions.

The team sought to co-create entry points for understanding the meanings of heart health and co-develop community-grounded heart health interventions built on local cultural logics of daily life.

The findings pointed to a few key factors that made it ripe for a culture-centric intervention. One key finding revealed that taste was a significant anchor to social interactions and food practices in Malay life in Singapore. Many participants were not receptive to healthier Malay cuisine because it lacked strong flavours, which enhanced the joys of everyday social interaction. Healthy eating therefore carries culturally-specific meanings in this context, which provided the basis for working with them, rather than stigmatising them.


Another important finding was that social events such as wedding receptions, gatherings, baby showers and of course, Hari Raya festivities, have significant bearing on the participants’ ability to control what they ate. Owing to a culture of eating together, participants reported hesitation in declining to eat more when asked to join by others, despite being full themselves . The sociality of food highlighted the importance of developing culturally-centered interventions that draw on food practices as relational practices embedded in community life.

Participants’ voices pointed to a large information gap about chronic diseases, resources of prevention, and strategies for coping with cardiovascular disease. Particularly salient was the absence of culturally rooted and culturally meaningful health information that addressed the heart health needs of the Malay community.

The Intervention:

The first phase of the intervention was  a collaboration with Jurong Green MAEC, a branch within Jurong Green Community Centre. The second phase, demonstrative of the CCA’s ability to utilise alternative community infrastructures,  comprised of collaboration with community members from Chai Chee rental blocks.

The collaboration with Jurong Green MAEC saw 12 advisory board meetings with 14 members who linked diet and stress as contributors of cardiovascular diseases. The strategies of prevention include introducing healthier Malay cuisines without altering the taste that they were used to, community-driven group activities of learning about food and Malay culture, financial management seminars to help the lower income community members manage their budget better, outings for families to relieve stress, health screening, and exercise activities.

These were manifested in the campaign Gaya Hidup Sihat Sepanjang Hayat or “Healthy Lifestyle for Life” which was carried out over a span  of 2 months and was launched through  a community event with  celebrities like Sufi Rashid, Khairudin Samsudin and Suria Mohd who shared  tips on preparing easy healthy recipes.  To encourage bonding with their family, the advisory board members visited Bollywood Veggies where 120 of them got a personalised tour around the farm and shared insights about the vegetables they could use in their daily cooking. Again, to reduce stress and encourage families to come together, they organised an outdoor Zumba activity in the void deck of a nearby HDB block.

In the second phase, 12 advisory board members from Chai Chee rental blocks began a focus group, after which they collaborated with Sunlove Senior Citizen Centre (SCC) to ensure that the activities they came up with reached a wider audience. Once again, the advisory board members identified several issues they thought should be addressed in their community, including an emphasis on a healthier diet, education on cardiovascular diseases and smoking, and community-grounded group activities centered on heart health.

With many low-income families in the community, the group wanted recipes that they could easily and affordably make and adapt to their needs. Using healthy Malay cuisine recipes, Healthy Cooking Wednesday at the SCC was launched. These recipes were compiled with the assistance of Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital, tested  by the community members and later distributed to the senior citizens through recipe cards in Malay featuring recipes from community members and tips on keeping the food healthy.

Community members also designed culturally relevant posters and brochures to create awareness about signs of heart attack and stroke, and the dangers of smoking, especially while pregnant. These posters were put up at lifts, at the SCC and Residents’ Committees centres; while the brochures and recipe cards were distributed by the advisory group members at the launch of the campaign. The campaign launch witnessed the members cooking for the guests followed by a short explanation of the brochures with a dance-off to wind down the event.

The CCA principle of placing the community as the locus of decision making resulted in the community members taking ownership of this project with a deep interest in sustaining it. Consequently, Healthy Cooking Wednesday continues to this day.

As Professor Dutta shares:

The voices of community members form the soul and spirit of this campaign, generating a positive dialogic space for celebrating heart healthy behaviors and beliefs in the community. What is powerful about this advisory board and the work of community members is their ability to identify cultural resources of healing from within the community, connecting back to cultural traditions, and cultural meanings, and demonstrating the importance of community participation in dialogues for health and well-being.