Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

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


Apr 19, 2013


Do you remember doing a facepalm when someone utters something ridiculous, like how women shouldn’t drive Unfortunately, public figures in Malaysia routinely make jaw dropping remarks that makes you go ‘Aiyoooo!’ (a local expression of disbelief) while cringing. This Malaysian term has been adopted as the name of a spoof awards ceremony to highlight sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia in the Malaysian public sphere.

Inaugurated last year, the Aiyoh… WatLah?! Awards was created by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) which comprises of nine non-governmental organizations to raise awareness on sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia and to encourage higher standards of behaviour from public figures, policy makers and institutions in relation to gender and sexuality.

The Awards focuses on public statements and actions instead of individuals and institutions. Selected from media reports in 2012, the nominees contend for one of seven categories: “Foot in Mouth”, “Insulting Intelligence”, “Policy Fail”, “Cannot Ignore”, “Least Helpful to the Sisterhood”, “Enough Already!” and “Right on Track”.

The shortlist of nominees also saw the perpetuation of discriminatory attitudes towards the LGBT community in particular, reflected in the “Enough Already!” category which highlights statements and acts that repeat sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, or transphobic messages. This year, three of the four nominees under this category targeted LGBTs, whether through organising forums and publishing guidelines to identify symptoms of homosexuality in order to stop their “spread” or by demonising LGBTs as a source of social ills and an offence to religion. The fourth nominee was the harassment against Ambiga Sreenevasan, co-chair of Bersih 2.0.

The Aiyoh...WatLah?! Awards also recognises positive statements and actions via the “Right on Track” category aside from just highlighting discriminatory attitudes. It is great to acknowledge those who believe in fighting against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality.

So, who will be honoured this year at the Aiyoh...WatLah?! Awards 2013? We will find out at the awards ceremony on 26 May! Visit to see the full list of nominees.

WAO is a coordinating organisation of the Awards and is a member of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).

p/s Here’s a statement made by one of the nominees when overturning the conviction of a kindergarten operator accused of raping a 4 year-old child - “We must not forget who is involved in this rape allegation, even if she is an adult, in which women have a tendency to exaggerate about a sexual act.”


Jan 19, 2013

What is Rape?

Dear friends of WAO

The recent case of a 23 year old student who was sexually assaulted on a bus in New Delhi shocked the world. She was brutally raped and beaten before being thrown off together with her male companion who also suffered injuries. This horrifying incident remains headline news worldwide. People are angry and disturbed by the brutality of this rape and murder of a young woman.

You might think that such rape cases only happen in less developed countries but here in Malaysia, rape is a dark reality for women too. I would like to quote a paragraph from the press statement issued by Malaysian women’s groups on 16 January 2013, “We remember Noor Suzaily Mukhtar, a 24 year old computer engineer who was raped and strangled in a bus by the driver; and Canny Ong, a 28 year old computer analyst who was abducted from a basement car park, raped and set on fire. We also remember our children – Nurul Hanis Kamil, a 16 year old who was brutally raped and murdered on the way home from school, Nurul Huda Ghani, a 10 year old, who was abducted and killed by a security guard, and 8 year old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, who was sodomised and murdered. Between 2001 and 2011, police statistics show that incidences of reported rape have increased from 1217 to 3301. These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg as research demonstrates that many victims do not report rape for various reasons including stigmatisation, victim blaming and fear of not being believed”.

When a man rapes society often believes that the perpetrator is ‘sick’ and has ‘problems’ therefore, unable to control himself while the victim should take responsibility for being the cause of rape. Why create excuses for the aggressor? Women, however, are told not to be out late and alone, not to wear make-up, not to wear tight fitting clothes and so on. Plenty of nots while rape still occurs.

According to our Social Work Manager, Su Zane, there are many cultural myths surrounding the issue of rape. “Women especially Asians are often told that they have to live up to the ‘good girl’ image and that their body is pure and sacred, their dignity is lost forever if their bodies are violated. It then becomes difficult for a woman to tell anyone let alone lodge a police report when she’s raped or assaulted because she feels that she is no longer clean”. Rape myths are damaging because they shift the crime from the perpetrator to the victim.

In an article ‘I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t’, Sohaila Abdulali says “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals”.

You and I, we can put a stop to this and be part of the solution. We can teach our children to understand their own bodies and respect others. We can teach young people that rape cannot be used as a colloquial word. We can eradicate sexism and educate the society on sexual violence and the reality of rape. We can be the change that we want.

For 31 years, WAO provides shelter and counseling to survivors of violence. Many women have sought our help because they have chosen to stop the cycle of violence. Be our advocates in stopping violence against women and lend your voice to the survivors. It’s time to stop rape and speak up. Women and men.


Oct 23, 2012

Life is precious!

“If you are strong enough to end your life, then you are strong enough to live your life”. I was talking to Su Zane, our Social Work Manager about the hardships that domestic violence survivors had to go through that drove them to the edge in the end. Suicide is a somber topic for most of us but a frequent thought that lingers in the mind of survivors.

According to WAO’s Annual Statistics 2011, there were 110 women who sought shelter at the Refuge last year. Out of the 110 women, 36 of them considered suicide. Among the 36 women, 16 of them   attempted to end their life. A few of the 16 women had attempted suicide once and almost up to more than 4 times. How do we know?

A social worker analyses the women’s medical history before they reside temporarily at WAO’s Refuge. Many questions will be asked including the subject of suicide tendencies/attempt(s) and as you can see, the numbers shown above are quite alarming.

WAO’s social worker, Uma said “We always ask questions. We ask about their family background, their childhood and if they have seen anyone attempting suicide, where do they get the thought to end their life and so on. You are thinking why bring up all these sensitive topics? It’s very important for us to know every detail because somewhere somehow the suicide attempt or even the thought of it had stemmed from something in their life experience from as far back as their younger years. We try to trace the origin of the thought and with the information, we can then begin addressing their problem effectively. Social worker use different techniques when giving counseling to the women and every woman who comes to us are in different levels of emotion. I remember talking to one of our residents who was in a very vulnerable state and reminding her of her achievements in life especially her children. She began to smile. It was the greatest feeling. My work with her had not ended but the change of emotion was a good start. Not every case is the same though”.

Abused and battered women or even rape survivors experience pain not only, physically but mentally. Some of the women who chose death over life made that decision in their time of suffering when the hurt and humiliation was never ending; when they have lost trust in the person whom they can depend on and when they are on the edge of a cliff with no one holding them back. 

Learn to listen and learn to listen intently. During the recent WAO’s teambuilding exercise, we had a session called Coffee Talk and all of us were paired up. Everyone had a chance to talk about themselves for 5 minutes while the other person listened. It was then we found out how powerful it is to just be present and give the other person all the time that you have got. In the case of working with women who are overcoming adversity, the listening ability and empathy is extremely useful and important before the social workers can begin challenging their thoughts.

A suicide attempt is a desperate call for help and every attempt must be taken seriously. With your support, WAO continues to listen attentively and walk with survivors so that suicide doesn’t ever become an option or a solution.

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Project Leader

Ivy Josiah

Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia

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