SINGAPORE — Hundreds of people gathered at a park in Singapore on Sunday to protest sexual violence against women as part of the global "SlutWalk" movement, in a rare public demonstration in the tightly controlled city state.
The event featured live music, speeches and a women's Muay Thai martial arts exhibition at downtown Singapore's Speakers' Corner, the only public outdoor space where demonstrations are allowed in the Southeast Asian country.
Participants at the rally did not dress provocatively as some activists have in SlutWalks in U.S. and Canadian cities.
"The idea was not to vamp it up, because women can get raped regardless of what they're wearing," said Vanessa Ho, who organized the event with six friends. "We're trying to raise awareness against victim-blaming and slut-shaming."
SlutWalk marches have been held in cities around the world, including earlier this year in New Delhi and Sydney. The protests originated in Toronto, where they were sparked by a police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts."
In Toronto and later Boston, several women marched in lingerie with the word "slut" painted on their bodies.
Singapore has strict controls on public speech, and outdoor demonstrations are rare. The wealthy island state of 5.1 million people also has one of the world's lowest violent crime rates.
Corinna Lim, executive director of the Singapore women's rights group Aware, said many sexual assault cases go unreported, especially date rape. Aware recently started a hotline for sexual abuse victims and offers to accompany women to the police and the hospital after an assault.
"The family of the victim will sometimes say, 'What were you wearing?'" Lim said. "Singapore women have modernized quite quickly in a short time, but Singapore is still a very conservative society."
Lim praised last month's decision by authorities in Singapore to abolish a law that allowed a woman's sexual history to be examined during a rape trial.
Women account for about half of the country's university graduates and hold a few high-profile positions in the business community, including Chua Sock Koong, chief executive of Southeast Asia's largest phone company, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. However, men dominate the leadership of the People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since 1959.
"The world is dominated by males, so there's a male mentality," said Esaint Chiang, a 21-year-old student who attended Sunday's protest. "I think it's a good idea to bring awareness to these issues, but I like that they're not being so provocative, playing by the rules and not pissing off the authorities too much."
Ho, 24, said she lives with her parents but did not tell them she was organizing SlutWalk because of their conservative values.
"My parents are averse to anything that tries to poke at the system or shake the status quo," said Ho, who has a master's degree in gender studies from University College London. "But this cause is worth it to me."