Role: Secretary* of MARUAH
Active in Country: Singapore
DTP Trainer and Alumna: 2006 Migrant Workers Program – Malaysia as a participant and 2008 Migrant Workers Program – Philippines as a trainer
Braema Mathiaparanam is a prominent Singaporean human rights activist, a former journalist with Singapore’s most prestigious newspaper The Straits Times and an ex-Nominated Member of Singapore’s Parliament.
Braema began her human rights advocacy work in 1992. She has championed gender rights, LGBTQ rights, civil liberties (especially anti-death penalty campaign), political pluralism, and the rights of the migrant workers in Singapore. Braema participated in two DTP courses – on the rights of migrant workers, and on Business and Human Rights.
With others she founded Maruah, a human rights NGO, and led the organisation for a number of years and is now its Secretary.* ‘Maruah’ in Malay, Singapore’s native language, means ‘dignity’. The organisation is also the Singapore civil society focal point to the Regional Working Group on ASEAN Human Rights Mechanisms.
Braema reflects that defending human rights in Singapore is complex and challenging, and a difficult path to take. Work on civil and political rights is particularly difficult, given legal restrictions.
Singapore has ratified some of the core human rights treaties – but neither of the core conventions on Civil and Political Rights or Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Singapore is host, rather than home, to many migrant workers from elsewhere in Asia, and their treatment is one of the key human rights concerns. Singapore has not ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (CMW). Many of these migrant workers are women domestic workers and advocates have used the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which Singapore has ratified, to promote the rights of these domestic workers.
Despite the many challenges, Braema’s motivation remains high. She said if you are aware, often it stays with you. This stems from values built up within the home and reinforced in school.
“When you grow up with this increased awareness, you see gaps, and you start thinking how to patch up the gaps,” said Braema.
She said one result of her attending the DTP training on defending the rights of migrant workers was to become more focused on including regional CSOs, diplomats, and representatives of the business sector in advocacy campaigns. She reached out to embassies of the countries sending migrant workers to Singapore to develop collaboration for the well-being of their citizens who are Singapore’s migrant workers.
“I contacted embassies such as Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh, in the early years of working on migrant workers’ rights. Together we created a mutual-learning environment so that they could share and develop ways to offer more protection to their citizens working in Singapore.”
They also encouraged embassies to also collaborate in defence of migrants and to learn from each others’ good practices. The embassies of Indonesia and Thailand introduced educational materials, booklets, and set up hotlines for the migrant workers as an outcome of this advocacy, following what they had learnt from Philippines.
Her reflections on DTP’s course on business and human rights is also highly positive. Before participating in the program, she said her knowledge of “business and human rights was very weak.” “I found that DTP program excellent and had effectively presented complex issues.”
“What was really good to learn,” she said, “was learning that European/OECD governments had specific commitments to guide the private sector on business and human rights – and the OECD Guidelines established National Contact Points that could hear complaints.”
As a whole she thinks the DTP training facilitators and the core content experts were excellent in mapping out the basic theories and the advanced knowledge that activists needed to know to spearhead their activism on the ground.
“It was intense upliftment in terms of knowledge from experts, an open discourse where I had many opportunities to ask questions and understand issues better, plus a reading list. All which help you to move fast in a short period.”
Braema thinks that against the backdrop of the renewed global attention on climate change, DTP does have the potential to expand its training work on climate change, business, and human rights. She said corporate social responsibility (CSR), is still the dominant mindset in the corporate sector. “This mindset needs to be pushed out to connect effectively with climate change. Business and human rights, sustainability frameworks, worker’s rights, meeting people’s basic needs to food, water are all taking centrestage now, more than ever before Perhaps DTP could ponder expanding its program into this sector,” Braema suggested.
“I still have all my DTP training files on my shelf. Anytime I’m unsure. I pull out those files to clarify. Or If I need to contacts to participants, I look into those files, to check on the participants’ lists,” said Braema.
*At time of profile in December 2021. Braema stepped down as Secretary in Jan 2022 but remains active in Maruah.