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.
“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.
The Malaysian government does not recognize refugees officially and yet our country has over 86,000 refugees as of January 2012 according to the UNHCR in Malaysia. Refugees leave their countries because they do not have any other choice except to flee from various reasons such as conflicts and human right issues.
They seek asylum status from the UNHCR situated in Kuala Lumpur and whilst waiting for a durable solution, set up their own communities in and around urban areas, eking a living working in shops, restaurants, and building sites illegally. In their communities, refugee women are continuously subject to violence and exploitation either by their own people or Malaysians. These women are survivors of trafficking, rape, domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Unfortunately, as a refugee they have limited access to professional support such as healthcare and legal protection. In other words, women refugees are often at risk.
WAO works closely with the UNHCR by giving support to refugee women who requires counseling and shelter. As of July 2012, there are 17 women in WAO’s shelter and 4 of them are refugee women from Sri Lanka, Palestine and Myanmar. WAO opens its doors to women of all races, ethnicities and nationalities.
One of WAO’s clients, Maya* is a refugee and domestic violence survivor who is living in Malaysia with her husband and child, also refugees. Maya was referred to WAO by the UNHCR for temporary shelter since early this year. She was physically and sexually abused by her husband. She needs to recuperate and requires protection. Maya and her husband have worked at various parts of the country for awhile and when the subject of resettlement was brought up, his aggression towards her escalated. He even threatened her if she proceeds with the resettlement programme.
Pressure mounts when you are always on the move and living in perilous and isolated conditions, when you run out of money, have hungry mouths to feed and cannot work legally, when language becomes a barrier and you want to make yourself understood, when every day is a struggle to live and to stay alive. That’s the life of refugees living in this country even with a refugee card.
WAO will continue to support the work of UNCHR. In 2011, WAO provided face to face counseling to 35 refugee women and asylum seekers at the UNHCR.
To find out more about WAO’s work, log on to www.wao.org.my or connect with us at facebook.com/womens.aid.org
*Name has been changed to protect identity
On April 17, I was welcomed to Women’s Aid Organization’s main office and women’s refuge shelter in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. At the office, Vivian, Projects Executive, gave me an introduction to WAO, its programs, and its goals and challenges.
Vivian and I looked through some of the press and advocacy campaigns. WAO partners with other local organizations, larger international organizations like UNHCR, and corporate partners to spread awareness about domestic violence as well as tp improve support and services for survivors. Vivian said the community wants to be a part of this movement because they want to make a change.
Next we went to visit the refuge, which is located at an undisclosed, unlisted location in order to protect the women. I found out that often these women’s past abusers come looking for them so this center is equipped with cameras, security gate, and emergency numbers. I asked her how these women escape their situations, and Vivian said they either come up with the idea on their own or it suggested by friends to seek help via WAO. The women are referred to the shelter when they have nowhere to go – some even have to bring their children to escape the violence.
When we arrived I noticed the security and safety, but inside beyond the gates was a bright home that I could hear children’s laughter. Once inside, I met the staff and counselors that work at the refuge to provide constant access and support for the women. As I walked around, I saw artwork posted up by the kids, and was introduced to the women residing there. There were women of all different backgrounds, religions, and cultures all under one roof – all supporting each other escape the abuse to start a better empowered life.
The refuge provides many activities like tutoring, English classes, daycare, skills building classes, and yoga. The staff also provides other outings and activities by request of the women.
It was wonderful to experience the work and impact of Women’s Aid Organization in supporting these women, but also to meet the committed and dedicated staff behind the scenes working not only at the shelter but as advocates for human rights, as well as see the strength and courage of the women who escaped violent situations to create a better life for themselves and their children.
Imagine that you are all alone and miles away from your home country. What happens when you lose all your important documents like your identification card or a passport? Of course, the first thing to do is to run to the nearest police station, lodge a report and head to the embassy for help.
This scenario leads to our topic of non citizen wives in Malaysia. Married to Malaysian husbands, the women have to depend on them to maintain their legal status in the country. The renewal of the “long term social visit pass” for non citizen wives requires the physical presence of the husband at the Immigration office. The pass must be renewed every year. If you’re thinking that’s inconvenient, there’s more.
After living for 5 years in Malaysia, you can now apply for permanent residency and off you go to the Immigration department again. However, you will still need the Malaysian spouse to be present to endorse your application. While you wait for decades for it to be processed, you want to find a job and earn a living. The Malaysian spouse must give a written permission for their wives to work. It’s impossible to be independent.
Things get even more complicated when there’s a situation of domestic violence. We met *Kelly, a non citizen wife, when she came to WAO for help. She was physically abused by her Malaysian husband. She was terribly hurt and traumatized. She made attempts to run away but was caught every time and beaten in the end. She made a police report but was forced to withdraw it. She was separated from her young children and is now seeking help to locate them. She just wants to find her children, go back to their home country and leave this ordeal behind.
Kelly will not be the last person affected by bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to give much support to “foreign” wives. What are non citizen wives eligible for then? Can they get permission to remain in the country? What about work authorisation? Why isn’t there any exception for non citizen wives who are also domestic violence survivors?
WAO’s advocacy work also includes lobbying for the rights of non citizen wives. We compile a report and submit memorandums seeking change in policy implementation so that all women including non citizen wives living in Malaysia do not face discrimination. Today, there are approximately 50,000 non citizen wives in our country.
If you support what we do, go to facebook.com/womens.aid.org and like us! You can then post comments and be involved!
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.