Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

by Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

*Swara is from Myanmar. A 20 year old woman hoping for a better life. Swara’s father urged her to leave the country during a crisis and she made her way to Malaysia. During her journey, Swara was smuggled into the jungle and kept there with a few other women.

Swara is a rape survivor. For months, the agents whom she thought would lead her to a job, tortured her and she endured the ordeal. When they released all the women except for her, she knew she had to find a way out. She told herself to be strong despite feeling terrified of the terrible violence and trauma that they have caused her.

Swara managed to escape one day with the help of some nearby villagers. As soon as she got out, Swara went looking for a relative she knew from her father. She needed a safe place to hide from the perpetrators. Together with her relative, Swara approached the UN for help and Swara was referred to WAO for shelter.

Swara stayed in the WAO Refuge for almost a year. She took time to heal and get her life back on track again. Swara received counselling and all the support she needed from her social worker. At one of the regular sessions, Swara was asked to pick a picture card. She picked an image of a jungle which she said was beautiful but frightening. She talked about what happened in the jungle and said “I will not give up. I know one day, I will see the light!” When she was asked what has kept her going, Swara told her social worker that her inner strength came from her parents. She is a courageous young woman who wants to regain control of her life.

Swara will be resettling soon. She plans to continue with her education.


*Name has been changed to protect identity

*Maznah and her husband met when they were medical students. She completed her studies and graduated as a medical doctor. Her husband stopped pursuing his education and was not keen to work. So, Maznah began working to support him. When he expressed interest in starting a food business, Maznah took loans to help him out. Maznah's husband became violent years later. Maznah was physically and financially abused. He also restricted her social contact. Maznah did not seek help as she is unsure of what to make of her situation. When she heard a radio interview featuring two WAO social workers, she decided to call WAO's hotline asking for help anonymously. She also contacted WAO's SMS helpline, TINA (Think I Need Aid). 

In the following years, Maznah was severely abused by her husband and she had to escape. She lodged a police report and also went to the hospital but was uncomfortable being there. She was afraid that her colleagues will know of her situation. She spent several nights by the roadside near the police station fearing for her life and unable to go home. She quickly sought help from WAO. 

After several months of pursuing the case, Maznah attended 3 court hearings. Her husband was charged under section 323 of the penal code for causing grievous hurt. He was fined for MYR1,500.

Maznah remained positive. She wanted to help other women overcome domestic violence and became a columnist for a newspaper highlighting women's issues specifically domestic violence.

She has expressed to WAO of her interest in setting up a support group for women who have gone through similar experiences so that they can support each other.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Handmade accessories
Handmade accessories

At the end of 2015, WAO initiated a pilot Social Entrepreneurship Project under the Women's Programme which aims to empower women to become more financially independent. The project equipped women in the shelter with the necessary skills to generate additional income for her and her family.

For the first stage, the Social Entrepreneurship Project will only last for three months to gauge interest of the residents. A sharing session was conducted with them to explain the project. A Social Worker also brought the women to attend regular sewing workshops to learn basic sewing skills. We also encourage them to make decisions on the type of products they would like to make, source for inspiration and purchase required materials and supplies. They were guided by the Programme Officer but also made efforts to communicate with each other for support and motivation.

The residents produced beautiful fabric bags, purses, fashion accessories such as bracelets and necklaces and hair accessories. The opportunity to market these products arrived when we were invited by the Association of British Women in Malaysia (ABWM) to set up a booth at their annual Christmas Charity Bazaar. The women introduced the items they made and had a great time having conversations with their customers.

We are happy to note that the Project that was meant to provide the residents with a small income also became a platform that helps rebuild their self confidence and communication skills. They showed progress and were keen to continue the project.

Colourful handmade bags
Colourful handmade bags
Lovely bracelets
Lovely bracelets
At the ABWM booth
At the ABWM booth
Survivors moving forward
Survivors moving forward

In our 33 years of empowering survivors of domestic violence, Women’s Aid Organisation has been strongly supported by scores of volunteers who have contributed in a myriad of ways - raising awareness about violence against women and raising much need funds to keep our doors open. In conjunction with our 33rd anniversary in September 2015, we launched #teamWAO to celebrate the spirit of volunteerism. With #teamWAO, we aim to inspire the community to step forward and support survivors in many ways. So, we would like to welcome you to #teamWAO.

For nine days in September, we shared survivor stories on social media. We highlighted nine women from WAO shelter who wanted their story to be told. Their stories of moving forward.

  1. Harini* and her children are survivors of domestic violence. She is a courageous and positive woman and is focused on building a great future for her and her four children. She is currently pregnant with her fifth.

    Being optimistic about her future, Harini wishes to continue with the business she started and to expand it. She is a proud owner of a motorcycle, but recognises that she needs to acquire a motorcycle license and road tax for her motorcycle. She has found a child minder for her children and is looking for a room to rent. Her eyes shone with excitement as she talked about courses she would like to attend in order to increase her skills and develop her business. “I want to get a PO (Protection Order) for me and my children, so I can have a peace of mind and focus on our future.” - Harini

  2. Rajeswari* and her children are survivors of domestic violence. She had previously left her husband without taking any of her possessions, as all she cared about were her children. When asked if she could have anything, she said that all she wanted is a safe place to live with her children. “I want to live long enough to watch my children grow up and have their own families.” - Rajeswari

  3. Vinosree* is a survivor of domestic violence and is focused on looking for a new job. She enjoys reading during her free time to keep herself occupied. She particularly enjoys adventure stories. When asked what she wished for, she said that she wanted a safe place for her and her children to live in. “I want to keep my children with me. They are now living with relative until I can find a permanent safe place to live.” - Vinosree

  4. Maureen* and her family are refugees and are waiting to be relocated. She is, however, currently focused on seeking a divorce from her husband who is a drug abuser. All she wants is to have a happy life with her children and for them to be able to attend school. She envisions a future in the US, where she would get a proper job and be a positive role model for her children. “I want my children to be protected from the drugs and negative influences of their father.” - Maureen

  5. Maria* is a survivor of domestic violence and is very grateful that her relatives have been very supportive of her during difficult times. She indicated that she values her children and family, and her relationship with God.

    Her aim is to have a fresh start—to have a safe home environment where she can raise her children and also to continue with her career. She recognises that for her to move forward, she would continue to need the help of her relatives. She also acknowledged that for her to make this transition, she would need to have more courage and spiritual strength. “I want to be reunited with my eldest child and be a family again. I just want the best for my family.” - Maria

  6. MG* had to live with her abusive stepson and wants her situation to change. As a strong and independent woman, MG feels driven to start her own business. A matter of urgency for her is that she can have a steady income to care for her three children and provide a better future for them. She would like to witness all her children finish their schooling and obtain their tertiary education. MG is a positive person and motivates other women around her to move forward and to never be afraid. Once she gets back on her feet, she plans to volunteer to help others who are in need, just as she has received help in her time of need. “I want to see my children further their studies after they are finished with school.”- MG

  7. Leyla* and her children are survivors of domestic violence. They are also refugees and left with very few pieces of clothing. During the interview, Leyla proudly wore the necklace her daughter made for her and commented that her daughter was very talented for her age. When asked what she would wish to have, she did not say she wanted riches or fame; rather, she said she would like to have more clothing for her and her family. She looks forward to being resettled - Leyla

  8. After separating from her husband, all Kavita* cares about is the betterment of her daughter. She would like to obtain full custody of her child and provide a safe and healing environment for her. What Kavita hopes for is that the Syariah Court rules fairly over her situation. Kavita plans to establish her own business by opening a food stall. Of utmost importance to her is that her daughter is able to get long-term therapy for her trauma. “The most important thing to me is that my daughter can get therapy to overcome her trauma. I recognise that her trauma has disrupted her learning, and I don’t want her to stay in that situation. I want a better life for her.” - Kavita

  9. Shalini* and her children are survivors of domestic violence. What Shalini values the most now is a safe place for her children and herself. Her goal for the near future is to look for a better environment and home. She realises that in order for her to achieve that, she would need to have a proper and stable income. She wants to be able to place her kids at a Taska (childcare centre), so she can go to work. “Having a better job and better environment for me and my kids will help me move forward.” - Shalini

If you have words of encouragement for these women, we are happy to hear from you!

*Name changed to protect WAO's client's confidentiality.

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' Sri Rohani launched the art installation
Visitors at the launch
Visitors at the launch



About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to 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.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

Location: Petaling Jaya, Selangor - Malaysia
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Ivy Josiah
Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.