Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

May 25, 2014

No need for a women's movement?

Aiyoh...Wat Lah?!
Aiyoh...Wat Lah?!

The Aiyoh… Wat Lah?! Awards is back!

For those who aren’t familiar with Aiyoh: it is an annual spoof awards event by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) to spotlight instances of sexism, misogyny, homophobia and/or transphobia from the previous year.

Although this year’s ceremony will mark the third anniversary of the Awards, the organising committee was, unfortunately, spoilt for choice when it came to shortlisting the nominees. In other words, gender inequality is alive and well, and it is rampant, so don’t let anybody try to convince you otherwise.

Nominees for the Aiyoh Awards are divided into 7 categories. Each category, bar ‘Right on Track’, is chock-full of (sadly unsurprising) regressive statements, with women and the LGBT community bearing the brunt of the situation.

Amongst the ‘Policy Fail’ category, the Penang state government reported stating that it would reconsider sending female athletes to the SUKMA games. This was in view of a rape which allegedly occurred at the 2013 games. In the same vein, a PAS Member of Parliament urged the government to prohibit ‘indecent dressing’ to help overcome sexual crimes and sexual harassment.

Should they be lauded for their efforts in overcoming rape and other sexual crimes? Not quite. In fact, not at all: under the guise of benevolence, this is a classic case of victim-blaming. Let’s be real. What is it that causes rape? There’s just one factor: rapists.

Rape happens regardless of whether a woman wears a short skirt or a hijab; rape happens at home. Rather than inculcating the much needed compassion for the victims, why are public figures still encouraging the same old, tired rhetoric that instructs women, ‘Don’t get raped,’ instead of educating the perpetrators in society, ‘Don’t rape’?

Another trend amongst Aiyoh 2014 nominees is unchecked homophobia and transphobia. Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi warned, ‘Just like drugs, a lack of awareness will cause LGBT to spread,’ likening LGBT individuals to the plague.

This is not an exaggeration: UMNO delegate Abd Mutalib Abd Rahim reportedly said that ‘LGBT exists in the west so that people can be purged.’ This statement not only equates non-heterosexual lifestyles to a disease, it also insinuates that LGBT practices are an exclusively Western phenomenon.

It is ironic really, when you consider that trans-persons have been influential figures in the Malay Archipelago. Up to the 20th century, many trans-people were esteemed local leaders, and transwomen were royal courtiers. Sorry guys, they’ve been around well before your first baby step, and they are in no way a ‘Western thing’.

Sure, not everybody agrees on the idea of diverse sexual orientations and identifications, but here’s something to keep in mind: some deliberately capitalise on this dissonance to gain political mileage. At the end of the day, LGBT individuals are human beings who have all the right to be treated as equals and in compliance to universal human rights standards.

Let’s not allow bigotry get the better of us. It doesn’t take a radical activist to hope and strive for a Tanah Air that is safe, compassionate and just – anyone with a shred of human decency can.

At this point, do you still believe that gender equality has long existed in Malaysia? At the 2013 Aiyoh Awards, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took the cake for ‘Insulting Intelligence’ with the statement: ‘There is no need for a women’s rights movement in Malaysia because equality has been given from the start.’ Is that so? If that were the case, statements from the Aiyoh nominees should not have been made in the first place.

The Aiyoh… Wat Lah?! event will take place at Merdekarya, Petaling Jaya on Sunday 1 June 2014 at 7.00pm. 

This Letter to the Editor was written by Kristine Yap, Advocacy Officer at Women’s Aid Organisation

Mar 6, 2014

How Red Thread Can Change Lives

No Excuse For Abuse
No Excuse For Abuse

"I'm afraid of him, but leaving will bring shame to my family."
"I don't want my children to grow up without their father."
"It's only a broken arm. At least he's not having an affair."

Have you heard these from someone you know?

It's hard to walk away from abuse. Many may not realise the abuse and continue to justify it without knowing.

This International Women’s Day, WAO is unveiling an installation art exhibition with the theme #NoExcuseForAbuse to raise awareness on the early stages of abuse.

If you are in Kuala Lumpur, you can drop by Publika (ground floor, in front of The Jeans Bar) on Saturday, 8 March 2014 from 10.00am till 6.00pm to see this powerful installation addressing the issues of domestic violence. The exhibition will run till 17 March 2014.

We are also hoping that you are able to participate in this campaign at where you are (if you are not in Malaysia). When you post quotes and updates on your social media platform on Saturday 8 March, we would like you to send an encouraging message to all women affected by domestic violence that there is actually #NoExcuseForAbuse. Remember to include the hashtag.

If you are interested with our cause, you can be our advocate. Keep yourself updated at, and Twitter @womensaidorg. You can also donate to WAO to keep our work sustainable. We are on GlobalGiving here.

We will see you on the ground and online! Happy International Women’s Day!

Stop domestic abuse
Stop domestic abuse
Jan 8, 2014

Survivors Speak Up - Domestic Violence in Malaysia

Speaking up takes a lot of courage. A recent project by WAO gives a voice to domestic violence survivors so they can share their stories with you. Unsilenced, these women are taking a bold stand against violence, intimidation and discrimination. You might find their stories horrific and disturbing but they are here to remind you. Many survivors do not talk about their abuse, at least not publicly, because of the social stigma surrounding them. However, Krishna, Lydia* and the family of Nur Hidayah featured in the recent video “Survivors Speak Up”  relived their pain so that we are aware of the issues of domestic violence and how the legal and justice system can be better.

Today, we hope that you can spare 20 minutes of your time and watch the video. We have heard many stories of abuse because of our work with survivors but we want you to hear them out too.

To view, click here:

At the mere age of 16, Krishna married her ex-husband after he raped her. Throughout their marriage, she was physically harmed, humiliated and threatened. She was scarred on her check and her left thumb, severed. Krishna made more than 20 police reports but there was no action taken. Her ex-husband was not charged. Krishna is still living in fear that he will come after her and her children.

Lydia* and her children lived with hostility and abuse. They were kicked, punched and stepped on. Fortunately, Lydia sought help from a WAO social worker and was informed about the Interim Protection Order (IPO). She obtained an IPO promptly. Lydia has now filed for divorce and found a new job.

In October 2013, 28 year old Nur Hidayah A Ghani was beaten to death by her husband. A domestic violence fatality. She was in the process of filing for divorce as she could no longer endure the abuse. She and her family also made police reports. One report after another, no action was taken to protect her. Sadly, Nur Hidayah didn’t make it. One more life lost because we are missing the red flags.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of survivor


Oct 11, 2013

Help us close the gap!

She was crying and sobbing on the phone. She said she has nowhere to go. “I don’t know what to do. He has been hitting me. I am really scared” She was then told that she could come by if it’s possible for her to do so. She showed up, tears in her eyes. She kept turning back to see if anyone was following her. She was quivering probably because of the windy weather outside or maybe she was feeling fearful. She was given a cup of warm water. She sat on the sofa in the counseling room. She looks a bit calmer. “Is it safe here?” She was reassured that it is safe and a social worker will see her very soon. Tears welled up in her eyes again. She said okay and her hands slowly wrapped the cup. The warmth was giving her some comfort. A social worker appeared at the doorway minutes later. They exchanged greetings. She looked hopeful for a moment. The door closed. She began to talk. The social worker began to listen.

Stories that we hear from domestic violence survivors are inspiring. They make you stronger. They make you believe that if you have the willpower, you can achieve anything you want. We are and will always be fueled by their courage and determination.

In 2012, WAO gave face to face counseling to 127 women. 65% of them were affected by domestic violence. The remaining were single and pregnant women, rape survivors and women facing sexual harassment and family or relationship problems. 71.9% of the 127 women experienced psychological abuse.

Does it ever occur to us that one of these women could be someone whom you know? A close friend or even a family member. She can’t confide in you because she is ashamed of her situation. She keeps to herself and hopes the abuse will stop. Most of the time, it doesn’t. Most of the time, it’s someone close to her who’s tearing her life apart.

Our work in providing shelter to women and their children and law reform begins with you. You are helping us to help these abused women. For the past 31 years, it was you who kept us going. You called us about a friend who you suspect are being abused, you volunteered at our events, you showed up with groceries, you taught the women how to bake, you joined us at public rallies, you made donations to ensure that we have enough funds to go on.

Funds are imperative because your donation goes to the running of the shelters and the employment of a full time team who only has one aim which is to eliminate violence against women. One step at a time. One giant step was in 1985, when WAO together with 5 other organisations under the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) called for the enactment of a Domestic Violence Act in Malaysia. It was finally implemented in 1996 but this law still requires improvement and WAO did not give up advocating for effective implementation of the domestic violence laws. Although we have laws, it cannot be fully assured that all victims are getting immediate protection. This year another big step, the Penal Code was amended to recognise domestic violence after much lobbying by JAG since 2000.

Want to know more about what we do? Check out our page on GlobalGiving.You can support us there too. We are aiming to raise the remaining USD 15,264 (equivalent to MYR 48,547.15) to meet our total funding goal of USD 35,000 (MYR 11,1317.50).

Please help us close the gap! We appreciate your contribution in any amount.

Thank you!

Jul 17, 2013

Break Free From Domestic Violence

“There’s often misconception that foreign women who are married to Malaysian men are planning to cheat them of their money. But in my case, I was the one cheated and treated badly. My children suffer a lot when my husband drinks. He hit them, leaving bruises and bloody wounds on their skin”.

Samantha* was born and grew up in China. She is a medical student who got married to her Malaysian husband in 2009 and has been staying in Malaysia ever since. Her nightmare began when she was pregnant. “I was not allowed to eat. I don’t even get to eat leftover food because my in-law would rather throw them away. I might not be physically abused at this point, but there was psychological abuse for sure. I was told that I am unable to open a bank account or buy properties because I am a foreigner. I was also told by my in-laws that they are not rich hence I should not expect much from them. My husband is always bringing up money issues. All I wanted was to raise a family together and lead a simple life. I was naïve. I didn’t think that the situation can get any worse”.

It did. “I was accused of being an indecent person just because I told off someone in his family for trying to sexually harass me. I am a woman who wants her space and privacy respected. I shouldn’t be discriminated just because these people think that women from China are bad news”. Samantha and her husband then moved out and into a rented property and she was due to deliver. “He didn’t accompany me during my delivery. I was given painkillers until I passed out. Water broke but doctors were not alerted. After the surgery, he became worse. He would call my mother during my confinement period and tell her that I am lazy and irresponsible. He gets angry all the time when the children are noisy. He bites them, on their cheek and arm until it bleeds”.

Samantha’s husband is often drunk and when he is intoxicated, he let it out on everyone. “He threatens me all the time. He keeps a parang in the house. I have also caught him trying to stifle our crying son with a pillow until the boy turned purple. There was one time at home that he hit the children and punched my sister’s face while pinning her to the ground and taunting her. We managed to escape from the house and make a police report”. 

She turned to WAO for help in 2011.

“There were instances in the shelter when I just sit in my room and was totally oblivious to everything that is happening around me. The social workers would come by and ask if I am alright. I would cry all the time. I was struggling to understand my situation”.

Social Work Manager, Su Zane was in charge of Samantha’s case. “Su Zane became my friend. She is such great help. Without her guidance, I wouldn’t know exactly what to do. I have learnt a lot from this experience. I now know more about legal procedures, who to call during emergencies. Since young, I was raised to be kind, to not hurt the feeling of others. I don’t think I have changed much but I have become stronger and I no longer cry about what has happened. I felt like I have grown up a lot in such a short time”.

Samantha is only in her 20s and she is really looking forward to a better life with her children. “Am I worried if my children are affected by the violence at home? Yes, I am and I also have so many other concerns. So I plan to focus on educating them. I have met so many single parents out there, working hard to earn a living. I can do it too and give the best to my children. We have so much ahead of us!”

For Samantha, WAO was one of her many turning points in her journey to recovery. The shelter gave her time and space to recuperate, contemplate her future and restart her life. In 2012, WAO gave temporary shelter to 133 women. 62% of these women sought shelter as a result of domestic violence. Among the 133 women, 50 of them were non-Malaysians like Samantha. Whether you are foreign or local, women in Malaysia can rely on WAO to help them to be free from violence.

*Name has been changed to protect identity


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Project Leader

Ivy Josiah

Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia

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