Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 36, September 2014

Stories that Refuse to be Told:
Overseas Singaporean Women,
Foreign Husbands and the Citizenship Terrain

Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho

  1. The logics and impacts of migration policy in Singapore have been the subject of significant academic attention in recent years. These studies address issues such as the preferential foreign talent policy welcoming highly educated professionals and financially-endowed individuals to Singapore compared to the restrictions put on low-skilled foreign domestic workers and foreign workers,[1] the influx of foreign brides and sex workers from neighbouring Asian countries.[2] Alongside these are rising emigration rates amongst young and educated Singaporeans.[3] As a result of these complex migration trends, international marriages are on the rise in Singapore. According to official statistics, there were 8136 marriages between Singaporean citizens and non-Singaporean citizens in 2008. Of these, 6360 were between Singaporean men and non-Singaporean women while only 1776 were between Singaporean women and non-Singaporean men.[4] Media and academic attention has thus far mainly focused on foreign brides, partly because of their numerical visibility but also due to the commercialisation of the marriage industry and mistreatment of women in some cases.[5] Much less has been said of the Singaporean women who marry foreign husbands, which is the subject of this paper. Nira Yuval-Davis argues that 'citizenship needs to be examined…not just in terms of the state, but often in relation to multiple formal and informal citizenships…and most importantly to view them from a perspective which would include the different positioning of different states as well as the different positioning of individuals and groupings within the state.'[6] It is in this sense that the gendered experiences of women in the citizenship domain must be studied, taking into account and problematising the overlaps between public and domestic domains of citizenship.[7]
  2. The growing international mobility of Singaporean women and rising trends of international marriage warrant further examination in terms of the implications for women's citizenly positionings in Singapore, thus connecting what Ruth Lister terms as the 'intimate/domestic and the global' spheres.[8] In this paper, I first consider the state discourses on the rise of international marriages in Singapore. Second, I draw on interviews with overseas Singaporean women in London to examine their intentions towards returning to Singapore with their foreign husbands. Lastly, I highlight selected cases of the difficulties experienced by women whose foreign husbands do not qualify for residency status in Singapore. Their situations, which I describe as stories that refuse to be told, arise as a result of the national service requirement in Singapore. These women are reluctant to make public their grievances because, they perceive them to be isolated instances, and they fear that they would jeopardise their husbands' future applications for permanent residency in Singapore. This research finding presented an ethical dilemma for me as a feminist researcher contemplating how to manage the personal knowledge shared with me within the semi-public context of academic writing. This paper is based on ethnography carried out in London and Singapore, and also forty-three in-depth interviews with overseas Singaporean citizens and permanent residents living in London.[9] Twenty-one of them were female; twelve were married, of which nine had foreign husbands. All of the interviewees had university qualifications. The fieldwork was conducted between 2004 and 2005. In conducting the interviews I sought to find out their reasons for migration, their intentions for return and attitudes towards Singaporean citizenship. All names cited in this paper are pseudonyms.

    International marriages and the globalisation project
  3. Marriage with foreign men, in particular Caucasian men, was once negatively typecast in Singaporean society as the Sarong Party Girl (SPG) syndrome, namely describing Singaporean women who prefer Caucasian men and dress in a provocative way to attract their attention.[10] However, international marriages have since been gradually incorporated into Singapore's globalising project. This shift was signalled in 1997 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong who said, 'If the foreign husband of a Singapore girl can contribute to Singapore, or if the wife is successful enough to support her foreign husband, we will welcome the husband and incorporate him into our society. It makes no sense for us to turn these foreign husbands away and lose our Singapore daughters.'[11] Thus in 1999 policymakers announced that Singaporean women would be able to sponsor their foreign husbands for permanent residency in Singapore.[12] Prior to 1999, foreign husbands had to obtain employment visas by their own merit so as to qualify for residency status in Singapore. In fact in 1993 the former Home Affairs Minister, S. Jayakumar, responded to queries on this subject in Parliament by saying that 'the husbands of Singaporean women who are applying for permanent residency in Singapore must first have a job or prove that they can find a job here.'[13] According to the same news report, this requirement existed to ensure that the men can support their wives and families and would not be a burden to Singapore. The report further suggested that immigration figures at that time indicated that the majority of Singaporean women sponsoring their husbands for permanent residency were not themselves employed, unlike the Singaporean men who sponsor their wives for permanent residency status. The gender ideology in these statements is clear: men are regarded as the head of household and breadwinners in their families.[14] The gender ideology, or what Eugene Tan (this issue) refers to as patriarchal normativity, in these statements is clear: men are regarded as the head of household and breadwinners in their families.
  4. The 1999 policy change was prompted in response to trends indicating that more Singaporean females are marrying foreigners and settling overseas. The new policy, however, emphasised that the permanent residency sponsorship for foreign husbands would be approved only if 'the family has the means to support themselves [sic].'[15] In response, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), a prominent women's organisation in Singapore, wrote an open letter to the Straits Times: 'AWARE wonders why…the family's ability to support itself [was] imposed on foreign husbands [and] urges SIR[16] to place the foreign husbands of Singaporean women on par with the foreign wives of Singaporean men.'[17] In other words, the clause in the new policy discriminates against women and foreign husbands who are from working class backgrounds. Till today the educational status, occupation and monthly salary of both husband and wife must be reported on the application form for permanent residency to enable the immigration authorities to assess an individual's eligibility for residency status in Singapore.[18] However, the Singaporean immigration authorities have been criticised by members of public for their unwillingness to reveal how points are allocated in permanent residency applications.[19]
  5. Singaporean parliamentarians also liberalised the Singapore Constitution in 2006 to allow overseas Singaporean women to pass on Singaporean citizenship to their children so that they and their children would remain 'connected to Singapore.'[20] Previously, this right was limited to overseas Singaporean men. The abovementioned policy inroads incrementally signal the improving status of women in Singaporean society. However, these discourses and policy interventions gloss over the differentiated impacts of citizenship regulations for Singaporean men and women. One aspect that will be highlighted in this paper is the barrier posed by the male military conscription requirement that prevents the foreign husbands of some overseas Singaporean women from relocating to Singapore.

    In service of the nation
  6. Compulsory male military conscription was introduced in 1967 by the Singaporean government. At that time, Britain intended to reduce its forces in Malaya thus Singapore had to build its own military capabilities. Conscription, popularly known as National Service (NS) in Singapore, was also regarded as a means of instilling national unity and identity in a multicultural nation. Young men reaching the age of sixteen and a half are liable to register for national service and serve full-time in conscription for two years (previously two and a half years) once they are eighteen years old.[21] Both Singaporean citizens and second-generation Singaporean male permanent residents are required to enroll in national service. Once they are thirteen years old they are subject to exit controls and need to apply for an exit permit if they intend to leave Singapore for more than three months. If the period of absence is more than two years then a bond of SG$75,000 (or an amount equivalent to 50 percent of the parents' combined gross income) has to be deposited with the government. This sum of money would be returned to the family when the son returns to fulfill his national service.[22]
  7. As feminist scholars have noted, gendered bodies and sexuality are pivotal to narratives of the nation. The state regulates men's bodies as protectors of the nation while women's bodies are an addendum to the production of the male body, as well as the biological and cultural bearers of the nation-state.[23] In the case of Singapore, former Prime Minister spoke of the importance of National Service:

      The men do National Service. The women support them. We can see that our [National Servicemen] take their duties seriously. When they participate in exercises with other armed forces, or when they volunteer for [United Nations] missions, they do the [Singapore Armed Forces] and Singapore proud.[24]

  8. The public recognition accorded to national servicemen who do their duty and the supporting role relegated to women is apparent in this statement. Indeed Singaporean men who fulfill their duties as 'soldier-citizens'[25] are rewarded by way of a pay increment if they enter the civil service and membership privileges in exercise and recreation clubs whereas those who fail to serve in national service are dealt severe penalties.
  9. National Service defaulters are charged under the Enlistment Act and if convicted they may be imprisoned for up to three years and fined SG$10,000.[26] The shame and material costs of not fulfilling national service duty are meant to be significant enough to deter defaulters. Male Singaporean citizens are allowed to give up their Singaporean citizenship status only after they have served national service, otherwise they will be charged if they return to Singapore. Second-generation permanent residents who give up their status before serving National Service are warned that it may affect their future chances to work or study in Singapore. In fact, the notes for submission accompanying the permanent residency application form state in Point 15 that

      [National Service]-liable PRs [(Permanent Residents)][27] are expected to serve [National Service]. Renouncing or losing one's PR status without serving or completing full-time [National Service] would have an adverse impact on any immediate or future applications to work and study in Singapore, or for Singapore citizenship or PR status.[28]

    In the notes, Point 16 further indicates that 'males who are granted Singapore PR, and who were previously Singapore Citizens or Singapore Permanent Residents, are liable to be called up for [National Service] regardless of the type of PR status they have been granted.'[29] It is in this sense that National Service is a social contract of citizenship in Singapore and those who transgress this expectation are regarded as undeserving of citizenship and its associated rights.
  10. Despite the public recognition accorded to National Servicemen who serve and the shame and penalties meted out to those who evade conscription, National Service is not solely a matter in the public domain. As Insook Kwon argues, in the case of South Korea, parents (in particular mothers) are made to feel responsible for the compulsory participation of their sons in the military.[30] In the context of this paper, Singaporean wives living abroad who wish to return to Singapore are made to pay a price if their foreign husbands who are liable for National Service have not or are unable to enroll in the military. This is a regulation to which Singaporean men marrying foreign wives are not subject because women are not liable for National Service in Singapore.

    International marriages and intentions for return
  11. I will now examine the attitudes towards return amongst overseas Singaporean women and the obstacles faced by some of them. During fieldwork, the Singaporean women I interviewed tend to agree that wives should follow their husbands after marriage but they also emphasised that living overseas is an experience that they wanted for themselves. Jean, who is married to a foreign husband, told me the following:

      My husband had been [in Singapore] for four years. He was getting a bit homesick and also because for his job, [there] are a lot more opportunities here [in the UK]…. Even independent of my husband I would have liked to come to work here. It was a mutual decision. There was nothing forced about it. I wasn't handcuffed and brought here kicking and screaming. We talked about it and we thought it would be a change. We thought it would be an experience.[31]

  12. However, after some time away these women experience nostalgia for the family networks that they are accustomed to back in Singapore. For instance, Joyce is also married to a non-Singaporean:

      I think when you are close to your family members and you have a big number of relatives you visit often, you feel that there is a social group where you belong…. I want to recreate that sort of social group, like I have a couple of friends or girls I mix with but it is difficult. You can never create that sort of closeness and even when you are close you can never recreate that sort of unspoken rapport. I struggled with that. In the end I chose to mix around but just be alone.[32]

    The familial void described by Joyce is not an uncommon refrain amongst the women I interviewed. As a result, these overseas Singaporean women hope to return to Singapore in the future, particularly when they have young children.
  13. Their plans to return are constituted by personal longings for home, filial obligations to ageing parents and aspirations for the socialisation of young children. Jean, who expressed earlier in the interview that she wanted an overseas experience, also later described her desire to return at some point:

      If we have children we would like our children to spend a bit of time in Singapore. They are after all part-Singaporean. It would be very nice for them to understand life in that country…. I know you say uproot and go, but you don't uproot completely. You leave some roots behind. Unless you move lock, stock and barrel there is still mama, papa, grandmother, grandfather. There is always something that gets left behind.[33]

    Jean's anecdote illustrates that it is familial attachments that tie overseas Singaporeans to the country and these ties become an important reason for later return so that the family ties can be renewed and sustained into the next generation. As I have argued elsewhere,[34] the women also have greater concerns over childcare and eldercare than their male counterparts. Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Katie Willis suggest in their study of Singaporean women in China that there is a 'basic acceptance of gender ideology.'[35] Their findings resonate with the views expressed by the Singaporean women I interviewed who feel more responsible for reproductive tasks in the family. They stressed the difficulties of juggling childcare overseas without the assistance of family members in Singapore and the practical day-to-day issues of providing care for the left-behind elderly.
  14. Returning to Singapore thus presents the prospect of relying on a tight network of family and close friends for support. However, return is an issue that these women have to negotiate with their non-Singaporean spouses, something Marilyn spoke about:

      Personally I would like to settle in Singapore if we start getting on in the family way. [My] family are all there…. But it is going to be difficult …a compromise. [My husband] is keeping his options open too. He is aware that I would like to settle there for the long-term and he is willing to give it shot. If it turns out that he doesn't like it or if his own professional opportunities get retarded there then it is something that we will have to talk about.[36]

  15. In the event that the Singaporean women and their foreign husbands decide to return Singapore, their return as a family unit is still contingent on successful visa applications for their spouses. The interviews revealed that these women believe their spouses would be able to obtain residency in Singapore as long as they possess the 'right' set of skills to meet the immigration criteria for points allocated to educational background, professional experience and income levels. For instance, Laura believes that in the case of her foreign husband 'it would be easy for him to get Singapore [permanent residency]' because he is a banker with a university degree from a prestigious British university.[37] Another interviewee, Xuan, is married to a medical specialist and her view is that he would have no difficulty obtaining residency rights in Singapore because he can contribute to a medical research sector.[38] These attitudes correspond to the rhetoric mooted by the Singaporean state and attest to the classed aspects of citizenship in Singapore. These foreign husbands are of value not only because they add to Singapore's population growth but also because of their potential to contribute to Singapore's economic development.

    Unanticipated barriers to return
  16. While it is likely that most of the overseas Singaporean women I interviewed will be married to foreign husbands who can meet the skilled immigration criteria for Singaporean residency, the obstacles met by two women I came to know of bear special mention here. In both cases the National Service requirement in Singapore proved to be the complicating factor acting against their foreign husbands' permanent residency applications. What is particularly striking is that the women have kept their grievances private rather than exerting public pressure on the Singaporean immigration system, for instance by drawing media sympathy towards their unhappy situations. I only came to know about their stories through long-term interaction during ethnography. To protect the anonymity of the women, specific details that may reveal their identities will not be reported here.
  17. In the first case, May is married to a foreigner, John, whose nationality is in a country that also calls for mandatory conscription duties. Both of them are in professional occupations. Although May can sponsor her husband's permanent residency application, she is reluctant because it might complicate his military service status. According to her, John's parents have Singaporean permanent residency and although at the time his parents had not applied for his permanent residency, she is concerned he might be considered a second-generation permanent resident that would make him liable for Singaporean national service.[39] However, the law in his country stipulates that nationals who serve in a military abroad will be prosecuted. As a result of this uncertain situation, May and John have remained overseas instead of returning to Singapore although she would like to because she has a lone parent living in Singapore. She feels guilty for not being by her elderly parent's side and describes her situation away from Singapore as a type of 'self-exile.'
  18. In the other case, Sherry's husband, Roy, had been a second-generation Singaporean permanent resident. He gave up his Singaporean permanent residency just before he turned eighteen as he planned to study overseas. At that time it seemed unlikely that he would return to live in Singapore again, so his parents dissuaded him from enrolling in national service, which would delay his studies by two and a half years (this was the requirement then). While overseas he married Sherry, whi is Singaporean, and they decided to return to settle in Singapore since her family is living there. His wife sponsored his permanent residency application but it was rejected for reasons unknown to them. During this time Roy had been living in Singapore on a social visit pass and actively looking for employment. Roy has specialist skills in the digital media industry that is being actively developed in Singapore.[40] A potential employer expressed willingness to sponsor his application for an employment pass,[41] which would allow him to remain in Singapore with his family. However, this application was also unsuccessful. Further probing into this case by the employer who was an influential expatriate in Singapore revealed that Roy was rejected because he had not fulfilled his national service before giving up his Singaporean permanent residency.
  19. By this time, Roy and Sherry had two young children who both took up Singaporean citizenship rather than their father's nationality. The family made an appeal for their case to the minister of parliament representing their constituency to no avail, even though Roy was willing to retroactively enroll in national service. Roy had no choice but to leave Singapore and return to his country of origin to look for work. Sherry remained in Singapore with their children who are attending Singaporean schools and to take care of her elderly parents. Roy commutes to Singapore on the weekends to spend time with his family. This transnational separation has caused strains in the family relationship but Sherry and Roy try their best to manage this. The couple is still hopeful that Roy will be able to return to live in Singapore in the future so that the family can be reunited.

    The stories that refuse to be told
  20. In both cases the women and their families endure transnational separation due to complications over the national service requirement in Singapore. As a result of not fulfilling or an inability to fulfill what is deemed to be a national duty, their husbands are denied residency rights in Singapore. What is also troubling about their situations is the unwillingness of parties implicated to publicly air their grievances. I suggest that their self-censorship, namely the deliberate practice of omission, is a response towards the political context in Singapore.[42] The refusal to draw public attention to their stories arises out of concern over what one interviewee, describes as the 'vindictiveness' of the Singaporean state. This interviewee, Lydia, explained to me why she would not give up Singaporean citizenship to apply for British citizenship through her spouse:

      Singapore is extremely vindictive. I have [heard of] cases where people give up citizenship and wanted to go back but they [were] treated as second-class citizens. I am quite conscious from that perspective that giving up citizenship in Singapore is quite a dangerous thing…. You might want to go back one day…. I know of a widow who only had 'A' levels. She gave up her citizenship to migrate to Australia to be with her husband. Sadly her husband died…. She tried to go back to Singapore…but she was only offered a work permit.[43] I think that is really vindictive.[44]

    When I suggested to Lydia that she may not face a similar predicament because she is a highly skilled professional, she was adamant that she would not take the risk of giving up her Singaporean citizenship after coming to know of her friend's dire situation.
  21. Although the circumstances of May and Sherry are different from the scenario depicted by Lydia, I argue that the passive acceptance of their transnational familial separation is due to this same concern over the 'vindictive' state. They are worried that by challenging the status quo they might jeopardise their husbands' future applications for permanent residency. Annica Kronsell observes that 'to study what has not been named presents a methodological challenge and creates practical problems.'[45] This is certainly so in the case of what I term here as the 'stories that refuse to be told.' The voices of these women are silenced in the public realm and during policy considerations. They experience powerlessness as a result of their self-censorship. They can only passively accept the transnational separation and hope for an act of benevolence by the Singaporean state that will allow their families to be reunited.[46]
  22. Such research findings also present ethical dilemmas for the researcher keen on practising feminist methodologies. I gained access to this knowledge by ethnographic chance and I am acutely aware of the anxieties experienced by the women caught in these situations. To tell or not to tell in my research writing is the question I repeatedly found myself battling with as I pondered over my findings during the years following fieldwork. Research writing can be considered a semi-public context after all.
  23. Feminist research principles provided little guidance and instead revealed contradictory knowledges. Judith Stacey, in writing about an encounter during which a research informant requested her to leave out information about a former closeted lesbian relationship, argues the following:

      Principles of respect for research subjects and for a collaborative, egalitarian research relationship would suggest compliance, but this forces me to collude with the homophobic silencing of lesbian experience, as well as to consciously distort a crucial component of the ethnographic 'truth' in my study.[47]

    Likewise, leaving invisible the difficult situations experienced by these two women would make me complicit in the self-censorship practices perpetuating the power asymmetries in the Singaporean citizenship context—an issue that I have raised in previous writings.[48] My uneasy resolution to the research dilemma presented in this paper has been to follow Melanie Mauthner's lead in safeguarding the anonymity of the women by being selective in the information I reveal and changing some socio-demographic details to prevent the identities of the women and their husbands from being traced.[49] I have also deliberately written about their situations in as general terms as possible without compromising any valuable insights from the analysis. Although these writing techniques may not be uniquely feminist, I wish to suggest that the constant monitoring of ethics and a concomitant reflexivity that accompanies these writing decisions is an endeavour that feminist researchers seek to undertake as far as possible.

  24. In this paper, I have considered the citizenly positioning of overseas Singaporean women 'and the chequered nature of [their] inclusion' in the Singaporean polity.[50] I examined the nature of discourses on international marriages in the Singaporean context, highlighting in particular the classed aspects of state rhetoric and policy. I also considered the male national service requirement in Singapore and the manner in which it is regarded as a social contract of citizenship. The interviews I conducted with overseas Singaporean women reveal that the family is an important reason for returning to Singapore with their foreign husbands. They would like to sustain intergenerational family ties as well as find family support to enable them to fulfill their reproductive roles as wife and mother. However, my research brings into view the manner in which the national service requirement has materialised into the de facto exclusion of some Singaporean women, forcing them to endure transnational separation from either their spouses or extended families. The analysis challenges the public-private dichotomy associated with nation and family, showing that the national service requirement is considered a 'public' duty but it also has ramifications in the 'private' lives of Singaporean women and their families. In this case I have pointed out how the burden of national duty may in fact lead to transnational separation for wives/husbands or daughters/parents.
  25. My presentation of these findings also reveals the quandary faced by a researcher trying to practise feminist research methodologies but finding that some principles run counter to a feminist research agenda seeking to question the uneven power relations between state and society, especially its implications for women and their families. Discussing the dilemma in this paper should not lead to the dismissal of feminist epistemology and methodologies but be seen as an endeavour that 'actively seek[s] out and highlight[s] the contradictions, displacements and differences within feminism and between women that serve as catalysts [for change].'[51] Thus amongst my research outputs I have published a newspaper commentary for the Straits Times[52] that draws attention to the complications posed by Singaporean national service by positioning it within a broader demand for dual citizenship,[53] which was articulated in the broader interview sample by overseas Singaporean men and women leading transnational lives. Framing the matter this way puts the national service barrier experienced by the minority of women alongside a wider struggle for citizenship rights, thereby creating a space for feminist praxis despite the self-censorship parameters made known to me.[54]


    [1] Brenda S.A. Yeoh, 'Cosmopolitanism and its exclusions in Singapore,' Urban Studies, vol. 41, no. 12 (2004): 2431–45.

    [2] Tisa Ng, 'Migrant women as wives and workers in Singapore,' in Asian Migrations: Sojourning, Displacement, Homecoming and Other Travels, ed. Beatriz P. Lorente, Nicola Piper and Shen Hsiu-hua, Singapore: Asia Research Institute, 2005, pp. 99–107.

    [3] Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, '"Flexible citizenship" or familial ties that bind? Singaporean transmigrants in London,' International Migration, vol. 46, no. 4 (2008): 145–75.

    [4] National Population Secretariat, 'Marriages between Singapore citizens and non-Singapore citizens, 1998–2008,' 2009, online:,%201998-2008.pdf, accessed 30 December 2013. [5] 'Sharp rise in numbers probed for sham marriages,' in the Straits Times, 22 November 2006; 'More seek foreign brides,' in the Straits Times, 18 June 2009. See also Theodora Lam, Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Shirlena Huang, 'Global householding in a city-state: emerging trends in Singapore,' in International Development Planning Review, vol. 28, no. 4 (2009):475–497; Ng, 'Migrant women as wives and workers in Singapore.'

    [6] Nira Yuval-Davis, 'Women, citizenship and difference,' Feminist Review, vol. 57, no. 1 (1997): 4–27, p. 9.

    [7] Ruth Lister, 'The dilemmas of pendulum politics: balancing paid work, care and citizenship,' Economy and Society, vol. 31, no. 4 (2002): 520–32.

    [8] Ruth Lister, 'Inclusive citizenship: realising the potential,' Citizenship Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2007): 49–61, p. 57.

    [9] Other than the Singaporean citizens interviewed, I also interviewed three Singaporean permanent residents and two former Singaporean citizens.

    [10] Jim Aitchison and Theseus Chan, Sarong Party Girl, Singapore: Angsana Books, 1994.

    [11] Goh Chok Tong, 'National Day Rally Address – Global City, Best Home' (speech presented at the National Day Rally 1997, Singapore, 24 August 1997), National Archives of Singapore, online:, accessed 7 Jan 2014.

    [12] 'Citizenship matters,' in the Straits Times, 8 April 1999.

    [13] 'Husbands seeking PR must show they have jobs,' in the Straits Times, 17 March 1993.

    [14] Also see Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Katie Willis, '"Heart" and "wing", nation and diaspora: gendered discourses in Singapore's regionalisation process,' in Gender, Place and Culture, vol. 6, no. 4 (1999): 355–72.

    [15] 'Cut in waiting period for citizenship,' in the Straits Times, 1 April 1999.

    [16] Singapore Immigration and Registration (SIR) is the former immigration department which was succeeded by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

    [17] 'Make all foreign spouses equal,' in the Straits Times, 7 April 1999.

    [18] 'Application for permanent residence in Singapore,' Immigration and Checkpoint Authorities (ICA) Singapore Government, 2012, online:, accessed 30 December 2013.

    [19] 'No to revealing PR points system,' in the Straits Times, 11 January 1999; Melissa Kok, 'Will I qualify for PR? Removal of online tool to assess permanent residency eligibility adds layer of uncertainty,' in the Straits Times, 5 June 2010.

    [20] Singapore Parliament Hansard, 'Parliamentary debates Singapore: official report: tenth parliament,' vol. 77, session 16 (2004), column 2792.

    [21] 'Registration,' iPrep NS, Ministry of Defence, Singapore, 2008, online:, accessed 20 July 2010.

    [22] 'Exit Permit/Bond,' iPrep NS, Ministry of Defence, Singapore, 2008, online:, accessed 20 July 2010.

    [23] Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation.

    [24] Goh Chok Tong, 'National Day Rally Address' (speech presented at the National Day Rally 2002, Singapore, 18 August 2002), National Archives of Singapore, online:, accessed 7 Jan 2014.

    [25] Deborah Cowen, 'Welfare warriors: towards a genealogy of the soldier citizen in Canada,' Antipode, vol. 37, no. 4 (2005): 654–78.

    [26] 'Enlistment Act,' Attorney General's Chamber, online:;page=0;query=DocId%3A%227c7b1aab-8403-4443-b322-0cba08be5d45%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0, accessed 7 Jan 2014.

    [27] PR is used interchangeably here to refer to both a permanent resident as well as the status of permanent residency.

    [28] 'Explanatory notes: application for permanent residence for spouse and/or children of a Singapore citizen/permanent resident,' Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), online:, accessed 7 Jan 2014.

    [29] ICA, 'Explanatory notes.'

    [30] Insook Kwon, 'A feminist exploration of military conscription: the gendering of the connections between nationalism, militarism and citizenship in South Korea,' International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 3, no. 1 (2001): 26–54.

    [31] Interview with Jean, London, July 2004.

    [32] Interview with Joyce, London, February 2005.

    [33] Interview with Jean, London, July 2004.

    [34] Ho, 'Flexible citizenship'.

    [35] Yeoh and Willis, '"Heart" and "wing", nation and diaspora,' p. 363.

    [36] Interview with Marilyn, London, November 2004.

    [37] Interview with Laura, London, November 2004.

    [38] Interview with Xuan, London, 2004 and 2005.

    [39] Ethnography, London, 2004 and 2005.

    [40] Ethnography, London, 2004 and 2005.

    [41] The employment pass is now subdivided into the 'P' and 'Q' categories. The minimum salary level to qualify for this pass is SG$2,500 and the applicant needs to possess acceptable degrees, professional or specialist skills.

    [42] Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, 'Embodying self-censorship: studying, writing and communicating,' Area, vol. 40, no. 4 (2008): 491–99.

    [43] The visa categories in Singapore have changed since the time of the interview. What Lydia refers to as the work permit is likely to be the 'S' pass. The applicant needs to earn a monthly salary of at least SG$1,800 (but less than SG$2,500) and there is a longer waiting period before the work permit holder can apply for permanent residency compared to employment pass holders since the time of the interview.

    [44] Interview with Lydia, London, March 2005.

    [45] Annica Kronsell, 'Gendered practice in institutions of hegemonic masculinity,' International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 7, no. 2 (2005): 283–98, p. 283.

    [46] Aihwa Ong, 'Clash of civilisations or Asian liberalism? An anthropology of the state and citizenship,' in Anthropological Theory Today, ed. Henrietta L. Moore, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999, pp. 48–72.

    [47] Judith Stacey, 'Can there be a feminist ethnography?' Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 11, no. 1 (1988): 21–27, p. 24.

    [48] See Ho, 'Embodying self-censorship'; and Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, 'Constituting citizenship through the emotions: Singaporean transmigrants in London,' Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 99, no. 4 (2009): 788–804.

    [49] Melanie Mauthner, 'Snippets and silences: ethics and reflexivity in narratives of sistering,' International Journal of Social Research Methodology, vol. 3, no. 4 (2000): 287–306.

    [50] Lister, 'The dilemmas of pendulum politics,' p. 52.

    [51] Elizabeth E. Wheatley, 'How can we engender ethnography with a feminist imagination?' Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 17, no. 4 (1994): 403–16, p. 412.

    [52] 'Adapt citizenship to new needs,' in the Straits Times, 14 June 2008.

    [53] The Singaporean Constitution prohibits dual citizenship. Singaporean citizens who take up a foreign citizenship must relinquish their right to Singaporean citizenship.

    [54] Elizabeth Enslin, 'Beyond writing: feminist practice and the limitations of ethnography,' Cultural Anthropology, vol. 9, no. 4 (1994): 537–69.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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