corinna lim

Photo: Lawrence Teo

This story is one of the six in The Peak Singapore’s Power List. The list is an annual recognition that celebrates and acknowledges individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, influence, and impact within their respective fields and the broader community. 

Our theme for this year is Quiet Power, a force that brings about transformative shifts in the lives of ordinary people through strategic collaboration and concerted efforts with like-minded individuals. Quiet leaders are dedicated to creating positive and lasting change within the community, leading to fundamental and permanent shifts in how the community functions on a day-to-day basis.

Raised in a family of three daughters, the straight-talking Corinna Lim grew up with a convent school education where she was inculcated with a strong sense of justice. It introduced her to the foundation of female empowerment — “girls can be anything they want, and all the role models you see are women”. 

It’s a belief that has served Lim well as executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). The 58-year-old first joined AWARE as its sixth employee in 1992. The lawyer and entrepreneur (she was CEO of BiziBody Technology for five years) embodies the meaning of quiet power for her tireless efforts in the progress of women’s rights.

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corinna lim
Volunteer Appreciation Party. (Photo: AWARE)

Championing for gender equality behind-the-scenes has been the core of AWARE, a not-for-profit organisation established in 1985. It has four main areas of focus — “sexual violence, gender equality in the workplace, marginalised women and girls, and ageing and caregiving”.

Led by an all female committee — one that has fought to maintain a non-religious and objective perspective after a brief takeover from a group of evangelical conservative Christians in 2009 — it continues to collect data and highlight gender-specific issues such as sexual harassment, marriage, and career equality.

Thankfully, in the last two decades, the women’s rights movement in Singapore has made significant progress in both mindsets and policymaking. And as feminism grows to be more inclusive in its definition, laws have likewise adjusted incrementally. 

Still, one need not look far to see progress in this regard. 28 years ago, in 1995, the Family Violence Bill introduced by Dr Kanwaljit Soin, founding member and former president of AWARE as well as the first female Nominated Member of Parliament, put forward that the law recognise marital rape as a form of gender violence, among other issues. Although it was not approved in parliament, it served as a road map for amendments made to the Women’s Charter a year later. 

Fighting for fairness

Lim was called to the bar in 1988 after graduating from National University of Singapore with an LLB (Bachelor of Law) and has since offered legal counsel and become a partner in law firms such as Allen & Glenhill and Khattar Wong & Partners. She also earned a scholarship for the Fullbright cultural exchange programme in the USA, and graduated with a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University. 
Also offering legal counsel at the Singapore Association of Women Lawyers, she witnessed the unfair disadvantages women suffered in society on matters ranging from housing to expected familial roles. Additionally, after joining AWARE and gaining more insight into the issues she encountered as a lawyer, she learned about feminism and found a more well-rounded and humanist perspective on providing the aid required.

corinna lim
Photo: Lawrence Teo

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She stepped up to the role of executive director in 2010 and currently works full-time at the organisation. Lim’s been involved with putting together a capable team, furthering AWARE’s previously volunteer-based efforts, establishing the Sexual Assault Care Centre in 2011 as Singapore’s only specialised services for survivors of sexual assault, and forming Catalyse Consulting in 2015 to train corporations on how to handle workplace harassment.

It’s a marathon, not a race

Taking on the all-consuming lead role and dealing with societal injustices on the daily can fatigue even the most tenacious, but Lim finds a balance with the philosophy of tai chi chuan, which she practices. 

Adopting the principles of yin and yang, she likens yin to a form of quiet power that grounds and re-energises. “It’s an exercise in soft power that nourishes not just my body but also my decision-making, my leadership, and my ability to influence positive change in the lives of others,” she adds.

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She sees similarities in AWARE’s two-pronged approach to affecting change; the outspoken advocacy in mainstream media that most people see and behind-the-scenes work such as engaging in a constant dialogue with policymakers and stakeholders to understand their needs. The results of their efforts were collated in their historic 2021 report, An Omnibus on Gender Equality, which combined 36 years of research over 88 topics and is the country’s most comprehensive collection of qualitative data from women of all walks of life. 

As intersectionality becomes the new buzzword in the fight for women’s rights, Lim has taken the opportunity to delve deeper into problems faced by specific communities, such as single parents and lower-income mothers. She elaborates, “We look for areas where meaningful change is most likely; ideally, this is where needs and gaps intersect with buzz, energy, and political will.”

corinna lim
Photo: AWARE

With more than three decades of experience in the advocacy sector, she still remains as passionate as ever. Every minute or big change they’ve been able to make in policies, communities, and individual lives gives meaning to the “back-to-back meetings, hundreds of emails and texts, and countless decisions”. 

And although she’s not yet ready to pass on the baton, she’s on the lookout for a successor. “One of my most important priorities is to cultivate leadership succession at every level within AWARE, including identifying and mentoring the next executive director and the next generation of feminist leaders.”

For more stories on The Peak Power List, visit here.