‘Mama Cash has always held on to a commitment to women’s own empowerment processes.’
Lin Chew joined Mama Cash as a volunteer in 1994, when she was asked to join the Board of the Mama Cash Fund for the Global South. At the time she was a staff member at the Foundation Against Trafficking in Women, (Stichting Tegen Vrouwenhandel) an organisation she founded in 1987. It was a member of her Board, Febe Deug, who introduced her to Mama Cash and she felt immediately attracted to the organisation. Lin: ‘Mama Cash was the supporter of ‘liberation struggles’ of women from their gender-biased and subordinate role. Mama Cash exuded a very radical elan, daring and risqué, taking on all the taboo issues and daring to openly support women on the margins of society. I guess that resonated with me, because I was also very much concerned with issues around women migrant workers and with the position of migrants in a totally strange culture, as I myself had migrated from Signapore to the Netherlands.’
In order to make a selection from the grant proposals, in the beginning the members of the Board of the Fund for the Global South got a pile of proposals to take home, or the grant requests were posted to them. Later on, Will Jansen, Manager of the Culture Fund, made an initial selection according to the criteria. Lin: ‘Although we adapted the criteria over the years, the fundamentals never changed. Mama Cash has always held on faithfully to a commitment to women’s own empowerment processes, like being ‘women-led’, and that activities would lead to some form of change in power relations and power structures. Projects that were ‘charitable’, addressing symptoms without analyzing and questioning the power relations, were not supported.’
In 2001 the Fund for the Global South was discontinued, and the work of the volunteers on the Board was taken over by professional staff. Lin, who in the meantime had moved to Hong Kong and had set up a women’s fund, Her Fund, together with a group of local feminists, became a member of the network of local advisors of Mama Cash. Lin: ‘The staff lacked ground knowledge and experience, so the locally-based advisors were very important. I wanted to do my part to inform them as much as possible. We also had some good discussions, especially around trafficking and sex work, my specialisation at that time.’
Shortly after the tsunami that devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people on the shores of Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 2004, Lin visited Sri Lanka and Aceh in North Sumatra, Indonesia, in search for women’s groups to support. Lin reports to Mama Cash: ‘Women’s groups are reporting group rapes and abuse of women and girls in temporary relief camps, but also during rescue operations. There is no reporting to the police. The silence around violence against women is louder than the roaring waves of the tsunami. During my travels I can only think “how can we support these women, except with the vow that we will be there for them during the lengthy process of recovery.”’
In 2006 Lin Chew became a member of the Board of Mama Cash, the first time the Board held international members. Board and staff came up with a new strategic plan for 2009 -2013, On the Move for Women’s Rights. Lin: ‘The input of international members opened more windows to look outwards into the world, for learning, understanding and being part of the global women’s movement. Although at Mama Cash foci and priorities shifted with each strategic plan, they never changed fundamentally. Mama Cash has always been careful in preserving the essentials and modifying the particulars.’
Lin Chew, at her farewell in 2012, after serving two terms with the Board, and almost two decades of volunteering: ‘Mama Cash is a funder and as such has a specific and clear role in partnerships with women’s organisations. In this role, she has contributed to substantial discussions around specific issues, especially with grantees and with peer partners. It is probably in the field of support for LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender, intersex and queer) rights and sex worker rights that Mama Cash has made the greatest contribution: in including these communities in the women’s movement, being the first to support such groups, and giving the moral impetus to them to keep on the struggle.’
Right upon her last meeting with the Board of Mama Cash in September 2012, Lin immediately went to the office of the Red Umbrella Fund (the sex worker rights fund located at the offices of Mama Cash), and helped out the staff to meet a deadline, handling the piles of grant requests. Not only the fundamentals of Mama Cash never changed, so also Lin’s commitment to women’s rights never does. Thank you so much Lin.