“Apa salahku?”: Interrogating social policy problem representations of domestic violence within Singapore's Malay/Muslim population
What’s the problem of domestic violence (DV) represented to be in Singapore’s social policy? This thesis interrogates the social policy responses to DV by looking at its discursive effects on Singapore’s Indigenous Malay/Muslim population. Undergirding the study is a theoretical understanding of structural intersectionality, which allows for a recognition of the unique identity of the Malay/Muslim population in Singapore. Such an approach contextualises Malay/Muslim women’s experiences of DV against the backdrop of Singapore’s colonial history and its current Anglo-Chinese political hegemony, which adopts a neoliberal, patriarchal and authoritarian form of governance.
Through qualitative interviews with seven professional advocates working in the social sector and public service, and in-depth analysis of policy documents and first-hand accounts, I examined the ways in which the problem of DV has been imagined and, thus, remedied. Using thematic analysis and taking some inspiration from Carol Bacchi’s post-structuralist “What’s the problem represented to be?” analytical tool, I identified the representations of DV that are found in the interviews and first-hand accounts by survivors and uncover the implicit problematisations within the discourses. These representations show that DV within the Malay/Muslim population is seen as experiences of patriarchal and religious authoritarianism, housing and income insecurity, inadequacies with informal strategies of resistance, and limitations of formal forms of resistance. Then, using the WPR mode of questioning more conventionally, I analysed policy documents and solutions, such as counselling, public education and criminal justice solutions, to reflect on the parameters and limits of how DV has been problematised and where policies fall short in addressing Malay/Muslim women’s experiences according to discourse.
The study concludes that social policy solutions define DV within the Malay/Muslim population largely as cultural problems, divorced from the historical and structural context it operates within. Problem representations also mute the overarching ideological position of Singapore’s governance.
The findings urge advocates and policy-makers to commit to a structural intersectional framework that actively dismantles the neoliberal capitalist systems and patriarchal ideologies legitimised by the State, which underpin and intensify experiences of DV among Malay/Muslim women and other marginalised groups.