Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

by Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

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:

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.  


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.


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 here:

WAO Annual Report 2013:
WAO Statistic 2013:

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

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

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


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Organization Information

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

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