Events of 2009 Aware saga now a 12-episode hit podcast
Gender equality group hopes podcast will spark conversations on feminism, LGBTQ rights, sexuality education
Shut up and sit down.
These five words are now part of the lore of what has become known as the Aware Saga.
And they obviously still resonate with Ms Margaret Thomas, who wore a T-shirt with the retort "Don't tell me to shut up and sit down" to a recent interview with The New Paper.
The harsh command had been directed at Ms Thomas, a founding member of the Association of Women for Action and Research and its current president, during a May 2009 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) where two factions waged a battle for the very soul of the gender equality group.
Ms Thomas, 69, told TNP: "It was a pivot point at the EGM. When (Ms Sally Ang, who was in the Aware executive committee at the time) shouted that, it was the exact opposite of what Aware was all about and why we set up Aware in the first place, which is to take an interest in what is going on around you and take a stand."
The dramatic events in 2009, which remain a landmark in Singapore's civil society history, have been captured in Singapore's first long-form narrative podcast - the 12-episode Saga launched by Aware last month.
Initially created in 2019 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the saga, it was eventually released as part of Aware's 35th anniversary.
Written and produced by film-maker Jasmine Ng and Aware's communications manager Kelly Leow, it is hosted by veteran journalist Bharati Jagdish and features an original score by local band .gif.
Since its Dec 9 debut on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, it has made the top 15 for Apple and top 35 for Spotify, with more than 20,000 listens.
The drama began in the March 28 annual general meeting when, in a move that few, if any, saw coming - a mysterious group of women stood for office and won control of Aware.
Known as the New Guard, they were supported by like-minded individuals who had recently signed up as members.
The agenda of this group, most of whom were conservative Christians, soon became apparent - they objected to Aware's sexuality education programme, which they felt was promoting homosexuality, a charge the Old Guard denied.
After Aware's membership ranks were swelled again by supporters of the Old Guard, they wrested back Aware in the EGM.
Said Ms Thomas: "With this podcast, the producers have found a way to capture a valuable oral history in intimate detail and texture, and present it accessibly to the public.
"I am pleased that this incident - which was, for many of us, life-changing - has been explored in detail."
The creators said their aims were to examine the impact of the saga on Singapore and spark conversations about such issues as feminism, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights, sexuality education and the role of religion in the public square.
Ms Ng, 48, said: "We are thrilled to see Saga climbing the charts, driven by incredibly strong word-of-mouth from listeners.
"The biggest compliment is people saying that it is cinematic, and countless fans have asked if Saga can be adapted into a Netflix series."
Ms Leow, 30, feels the Aware saga still resonates today because it was such "an awakening for many in Singapore".
She said: "We were unsure if the podcast could reach younger audiences who did not know about (the saga), but they have been live tweeting and posting on social media."
Added Ms Thomas: "People started having to think about how wrong it was to take over an organisation on questionable grounds.
"We are a multiracial and multi-religious society and we need to learn to co-exist and debate with respect. Don't force your beliefs onto others."
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