Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

 
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Ceramic sculptures at Publika
Ceramic sculptures at Publika

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) revealed their annual “Working Together: Case Studies in Domestic Violence Response, 2015 Report”, simultaneously launching their public education campaign with a ceramic art installation entitled, “Can You Keep A Secret?” in collaboration with Leo Burnett/ Arc Worldwide Malaysia in Publika. The launch was officiated by the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, YB Dato’ Sri Rohani Abdul Karim.

The report details the experiences of domestic abuse survivors and the challenges they faced in obtaining protection and justice. WAO also compiled a comprehensive list of recommendations directed towards relevant government authorities.

“Can You Keep a Secret?” is aimed at raising awareness on domestic violence featuring live-size ceramic head sculptures representing everyday women who could be victims of abuse. The twelve ceramic heads feature different stories of domestic violence survivors, drawing the public’s attention and urging them to speak out when it matters most – when they notice abuse.

Artist James Seet from Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide Malaysia volunteered his time and skills to create the sculptures as it was an issue he strongly wanted to champion. “Ceramic art was used to mirror real stories of survivors, representing the fragility of abused victims. Masking their internal emotions with a strong façade, victims develop deep mental and emotional scars that affect their wellbeing,“ Seet said.

“In line with Leo Burnett’s Humankind philosophy of creating work that influences behaviour, we hope to be able to bring the severity of domestic violence to attention through this art installation. This issue will not resolve overnight, but with the little exposure and education on this topic, we hope to encourage Malaysians to take action when they come across domestic violence,” James added.

“The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development prioritises women’s rights, and is working towards achieving gender equality. Malaysia is committed to our obligations to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Ministry strongly supports efforts by government and non-governmental agencies to assist survivors of domestic violence,” the Minister stressed.

The Minister also noted that there were strengths and weaknesses in the response system for domestic violence survivors, which the report points out. The Minister added that her Ministry would “consider all suggestions and recommendations that WAO has raised in the report to better address domestic violence.”

Sumitra Visvanathan, Executive Director of WAO, emphasised the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in addressing domestic violence. She stated, “All relevant bodies, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government agencies such as hospitals and the police must work together to improve our response to domestic violence and continue to ensure that victim-survivors have access to the crucial support and assistance that we collectively provide.”

The report highlights the key role of police as first-responders in most domestic violence cases. From the 110 victim-survivors surveyed, 68 (61.8%) of them sought help from the police before anyone else.

“The police play a vital role in domestic violence response. It is exceedingly important that officers receive proper support and training to deal with these cases,” Visvanathan further commented.

Another highlight in the report is breakthrough developments in the courts where domestic violence cases are tried. For example, a victim impact statement (VIS) was successfully used in convicting a perpetrator. In another case, the perpetrator was successfully jailed for breaching a protection order, a first in Malaysia.

WAO Vice-President Tashia Peterson said at the launch, “Domestic violence must not be seen as normal; women have the right to a life free from violence. We want the public to recognise that and realise that we all have a part to play in ending domestic violence.”

“We would also like to thank Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide Malaysia for helping to make our campaign a success, as well as the office of Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, and Brickfields Asia College (BAC) for their generous support towards publishing the report. Thank you as well to Publika for providing us the space to conduct these initiatives,” she added.

The art installation was displayed in Publika from 23 June to 22 July 2015 and will be exhibited in Gardens Mall from 3 to 16 August 2015.

Be a busybody when it matters most
Be a busybody when it matters most
Dato
Dato' Sri Rohani launched the art installation
Visitors at the launch
Visitors at the launch

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I met Lin three years ago, on my first day with Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysia’s largest service provider for domestic violence survivors. Abused by her husband, she was seeking help.

Soon after she arrived, we heard a man screaming outside our one-storey office. Through a window, I saw a man whose face was covered in blood. Lin said he was her friend, and we let him in.

The man had been waiting in the car, when Lin’s husband and father appeared and beat him up. I was stunned. I could barely imagine how Lin must have felt – to be in an abusive marriage, to have her father side with her abuser, and to be intimidated when seeking help.

Hundreds of thousands of women in Malaysia have similar stories to tell. A study by Universiti Sains Malaysia released last year estimated that nine out of every hundred ever-partnered women in Peninsular Malaysia have experienced domestic violence. Each story is a painful reminder of the urgent commitment needed to end violence against women.

Domestic violence is not only widespread, it is complex. To end domestic violence, we need to transform systems—review laws and policies, improve enforcement, and change attitudes.

And while we have seen some encouraging developments in recent years, we have a long way to go.

Special legal protection for domestic violence survivors does not apply to survivors who are not married to their abusive intimate partners. There are no standard operating procedures to help multiple agencies work together to cooperatively response to domestic violence cases. Front-line responders are not given nearly enough resources to effectively handle domestic violence cases.

We are advocating reforms to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of women like Lin receive the high quality services they deserve when faced with violence, and reforms that will help prevent violence in the first place.

We are working on it, but we need your help getting there.

Your support will not only help us provide vital services for survivors of domestic violence, it will enable us to continue advocating for better systems to end violence against women.

9% of ever-partnered women in Malaysia have previously, or are currently, victimized by domestic violence. Every year, too many women in Malaysia experience violence from people they live with: whether husband, partner, family member or employer. It occurs across the social strata, in cities and in rural areas. It is preventing the enjoyment of safety and wellbeing for tens of thousands of women.

WAO wants to progressively build our capacity to respond to the above. We now want to broaden our work, particularly from a Services perspective. In preparation for this, strengthening of WAO’s core fundamentals is critical. The main emphasis will be placed on kick-starting this strengthening process in 2015, thereby paving the way for up-scaling WAO’s work in 2016.

Women’s Aid Organisation currently provides one of the main DV-focused advocacy, shelter, reintegration and case management services in Malaysia. Our advocacy and services have always been designed to strengthen state policy and access to state protection, enhance public awareness of DV and gender equality issues, as well to support our clients through the challenge of evolving from domestic violence victims into empowered survivors.

In reviewing the impact of our work so far, the team was very inspired and moved by the 9%. It begs the question whether 800,000 Malaysian women experiencing or previously experiencing domestic violence amounts to a public health crisis. It also therefore begs the question what part we could play in ensuring the scale of our advocacy and services is increased to better meet this crisis.

Our answer is: Responding to more women within the 9% must be one of WAO’s long-term goals. But before WAO can broaden the scope of our services and sharpen the edge of our advocacy, some key institutional building measures need to be successfully implemented first.

Over a month-long period, consultations took place within the WAO team to consider what works, what does not and, most important, what else can be done for us to make the most significant impact and achieve the most positive change. We have drawn from the experience and expertise of colleagues, our own tacit knowledge, consulted expert papers, research and internally available data. We have learned from this, reflected on past and current practices and examined strategies that have worked in other contexts both locally and internationally.

While the service currently provided by the WAO Social Work team is multi-faceted, intensive, frequently ground breaking and littered with success stories, it is principally focused on our shelter and its residents. We need to ensure pre-crisis and post-crisis services are also in place and functioning well. While our Advocacy activities have led to high-recognition of WAO, strengthening of legislation and ensuring public visibility of DV issues, stronger synergy with our service delivery aspect, stronger links with state responders and deeper community-level awareness is required. This could be achieved, for instance through vigorous community-based education and response, and police training initiatives.

All of this must meet non-profit benchmarks. In sum, while our successes have been many, expansion beyond our current operating framework is the right thing to do, and this is the right time to initiate it. But, before we expand, we need to prepare the groundwork.

Reaching Out to the Nine Percent is our response to the above.

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Refuge is a place where you seek shelter and are away from danger. You can call it a home or a safe house but the definition of the Refuge will still be the same.

As I walked into the Refuge, I could hear children’s footsteps running to greet me. The women are seated in the living hall having deep conversations. A few others busy in the kitchen. Some of them smiled at me, having seen me before.

I sat down and spoke to my colleague, Sally Wangsawijaya. She is a social worker. I asked her what’s a typical day for her at the Refuge.

“It is unpredictable. It is unexpected. You might have plans but there will be other issues that need your urgent attention. You will need to be with the client when she obtains her protection order or get medical attention. There will be days when you don’t even get to step out because you are handling counselling calls. Then, there is also house issues. The Refuge must be tidy and organised. You attend meetings and speak to the media or give talks at schools. There is a combination of things going on at the same time”, said Sally.

Then, sometimes you get an unpleasant and abrupt shock when you see someone unfamiliar and uninvited at the gate. Perpetrators who are adamant to find their wife or partner or employee. They refuse to budge and they won’t accept no as an answer. They demand and threaten staff and residents to let them in. Some turned up with the police which to us, is unacceptable.

“This is a place where women seek protection. It is a safe house! We always remind the residents, and ourselves, to be vigilant", Sally continued.

Back in my office, I read the Letter to the Editor written by Kristine Yap, WAO’s Advocacy (Communications) Officer. It says “Being responsible for enforcing laws and protection services, the primary duty of PDRM (Polis Diraja Malaysia) is to ensure safety for all. Bearing that in mind, the role of the police in a domestic violence situation is not too different from ours, which is to protect the safety of the victim-survivor. Taking that into account, the police should not reveal the classified address of the shelter to anyone, especially not to the perpetrator”.

You can read further here: http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/280277

There were many success stories where we had assistance from the police during a crisis. So, let’s remind ourselves why we are here doing this work in the first place. It is to ensure the safety of people who needs help and protection.  

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In April 2014, WAO presented its Annual Report and Annual Statistics for the year 2013 at the 30th Annual General Meeting. It was attended by staff, executive committee and members.

We would like to share with you some important numbers that will help you understand how significant your support is in changing the lives of these women and children whom we are helping.

Refuge

In 2013, 153 women sought shelter with WAO. 93 of the 153 women were domestic violence survivors. This is followed by cases of trafficking, single and pregnant women, rape and migrant domestic workers abuse. Majority of the residents who sought shelter were Malaysians and Myanmarese. The rest were from Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, India, China, Vietnam, Mali, Brazil and Nigeria.

Women who sought shelter with WAO also come with children. Out of the 153 residents, 107 of them have children. Of 107 mothers, 55 mothers stayed in the shelter with their children. There were altogether 109 children at the Refuge in 2013.

It is also crucial to highlight that psychological abuse rates the highest at 98.9%, physical abuse (95.6%), financial abuse (51.6%), social abuse (48.4%) and sexual abuse (35.2%). This shows that in any violent situation, the woman is subjected to multiple forms of abuse.

As for counselling, WAO social workers conducted 125 face to face counselling sessions, 1,965 telephone counselling and attended to 238 email enquiries.

Child Care Centre

32 children from 17 mothers stayed at the Child Care Centre (CCC) in 2013. 78% of the 32 children were 9 years old and below. The remaining  are below 15 years old. Most of them stayed for 5 months and more.

During their stay at the CCC, 17 children attended schools while 15 did not. Out of these 15 children, 5 received proper home schooling at the CCC. The remaining 10 children did not attend school because their stay was short and some were due to protection issues.

As of December 2013, a total of 28 children left the CCC while 4 others remain at the centre.

For more detailed information, you can view our reports from www.wao.org.my here:

WAO Annual Report 2013: http://bit.ly/1pfPulS
WAO Statistic 2013: http://bit.ly/1sDK1X9

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Organization

Project Leader

Ivy Josiah

Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia

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