Pioneering activist in the local and global family planning movement
Constance Goh was a pioneering activist in the family planning movement in Singapore and internationally. Born in Xiamen, China, she moved to Singapore with her mother in 1918. Sent back to Shanghai for studies when she was 18, she took some courses in social studies. Part of the course work involved visiting prisons, courts, factories and farms. Constance began to notice the social injustices around her, such as girls as young as eight having to do fine embroidery work in dimly-lit room.
In 1930, she returned to Singapore and married Goh Kok Kee, a public health doctor, in 1932. It was after the Second World War, when Constance started a feeding centre in Havelock Road for impoverished children, that she began to think about the need for family planning. The children were not orphans; they had families but their parents could not afford to feed their large brood.
Constance began to think about the next step – how to get people to stop having large families that they would not be able to clothe and feed and raise properly. She became a fervent advocate of family planning. In 1949, with fellow volunteers, she suggested that family planning advice be made available to mothers at infant welfare clinics.
Constance soon realised that a more comprehensive and systematic approach to spread the message was needed. A meeting of people interested in the matter was called and it was decided that the Singapore Family Planning Association (SFPA) be set up. Constance was the first chairwoman of the association, which today is known as the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association.
Towards the end of 1949, a few months after the SFPA was formed, the first family planning clinic was opened in Constance’s husband’s clinic. On the day it opened, just one patient turned up. But as the word spread, the numbers increased rapidly.
The association had to deal with much resistance. At the individual level, people thought large families to be natural and desirable. Then there were the religious groups that were opposed to birth control. But Constance and her colleagues persisted, steadily getting the word out via posters, leaflets, and media interviews.
In 1952, together with like-minded women from other countries, Constance co-founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). In recognition of her work, Constance was made a Justice of the Peace in 1949 and conferred the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1951.
Constance Goh passed away, aged 90, in 1996.
"It was very difficult to persuade men to use condoms. Most men thought only of their own pleasure. The worship of ancestors influenced their attitudes as well. You must have sons to provide for you in the after-life and to carry on the family name, to serve you. If you don’t have sons you must try and try again. Many times their wives came to us in secret."