The 19-year-old Founder of SAMA shares his personal motivations for battling gender inequality.

“I started volunteering in the gender advocacy scene at 16 because of my single mother. Growing up, I witnessed her financial and mental health struggles as she became both the sole breadwinner and homemaker almost overnight.

Losing her husband to lung cancer, she was forced to take on the role of both dad and mom for my sisters and I. The barriers that she conquered, however, were an unfamiliar concept to most of my peers in primary and secondary school.

I was thus drawn to finding other people like my mom and I, and bringing our issues – my mother’s issues, more importantly – closer to others. This led me to volunteer for AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research), where I contributed to many projects.

These included a project to cultivate greater sensitivity in police interviews of sexual assault survivors, and the Support, Housing and Enablement (S.H.E) Project, which help single mothers find homes for them and their kids to live in.

I spent three years volunteering for AWARE, and also co-founded a project with DOT (Daughters of Tomorrow) in Junior College (JC) to support women in financially precarious positions. Concurrently, these three years led to the next stage of my life: National Service.

Enlisting into the army, I was met with a new environment – one that was male-dominated and heteronormative. It wasn’t institutional, but more casual and everyday. I heard jokes that degrade women, ranging from objectification to even rape.

How is it that I could previously find a community in AWARE and DOT that was so inclusive, and suddenly find myself in a drastically different environment?

Men today are still trapped by social conventions of toxic masculinity. This hinders them from being in touch with their emotions and expressing them healthily through vulnerability with loved ones. As a result, some of us have lower rates of emotional literacy and intelligence.

It dawned on me that we still have a long way to go in terms of changing mindsets. Rallying my friends from a variety of schools, I initiated SAMA (Students Advocate for Empowerment and Awareness) to spark that mindset change.

Now, how do we contribute? As male allies, I think we first need to recognise that we benefit from gender equality too. It isn’t a zero-sum game. By acknowledging that gender equality benefits us, it would incentivise more of us to contribute to the gender equality cause.

We can contribute by sharing caregiving duties and challenging instances of inequality we see. Even amongst male-only circles, it is also helpful to encourage vulnerability and support a healthier form of masculinity.

This is why we invited the President of United Women Singapore (UWS) to represent their Boys Empowered Programme to speak about tackling toxic masculinity at our SAMA Festival.

Do men have a place in feminism? I think we do. But ultimately, women take centre stage because the cause for gender equality originated from a power asymmetry that was (and still is) against women for the longest time.

As male allies, I think it is so important for us to tap on our humility and acknowledge our privileges so that we can challenge unhelpful beliefs that disadvantage women.” – Shaun Loh, 19, Founder of SAMA

Story Submission by Isabella Ren

Edited by Arman Shah