WAO: DV No Longer A Silent Problem but Still Work to Do

Posted on 21 September 2012

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Domestic violence no longer a silent problem

Writer: Lee Choon Fai 
Published: Fri, 21 Sep 2012


PETALING JAYA: On the day the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) was established, a man told one of the volunteers that the organisation will not survive as Malaysians do not beat their wives.

Three decades later, more than 40,000 women have walked through the doors of WAO to seek help and shelter, for themselves and sometimes even their children, from domestic violence.

“That 40,000 does not include women who called our centre as only those who came to us to seek shelter were recorded, the real number of cases (of domestic violence) could be much higher,” said WAO executive director Ivy Josiah.

Global statistics show that 40 per cent of women are victims of domestic violence, and for every case reported nine were swept under the carpet.

During the WAO’s founding year of 1982, domestic violence was a largely unrecognised issue in the country.

Ivy said attempts to lodge a police report back then were often turned away as it was regarded as a private matter to be settled peacefully within the family.

“We raised awareness of it, we made sure it was no longer a silent issue and we have shone a light on domestic violence.

“Now when you lodge a police report, the police will ask if you need an escort back home or should they bring the husband in,” she said.

The police force now has a trained team of women officers with a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to handle domestic violence cases.

This change in attitude was brought about by the passing of the Domestic Violence Act 1994 in Parliament, which the WAO had been advocating for.

It was one of the WAO’s most important achievements so far, and Ivy said it is very heartening to see that they are making a difference.

“Many women’s lives have changed because of what we have done and the service we are providing,” she said.

However, implementation of the Act is still met with stumbling blocks and improvements need to be made.

Ivy said the protection orders under the Act are vague and need to be more detailed; she then drew a comparison between a protection order in Malaysia and in Western countries.

“A protection order here just means the husband cannot hurt his wife physically, it does not cover harassment of other sorts like pestering her with phone calls, verbal abuse, mental abuse, showing up at her work place to harass her.

“The devil is in the detail, a protection order overseas will even include a set distance which the perpetrator cannot intrude,” said Josiah.

Police officers of lower rank and file are also not properly trained in the Act’s implementation or its implications.

Ivy recounted several incidents where the perpetrator came with the police to the WAO looking for his wife and threatened the volunteers as well.

“They (the police) can see that the man is shouting, making threats, and verbally abusing us, but they don’t take action because they think the man has a right to look for his wife,” she said.

The police force also does not have enough resources to thoroughly enforce the Act and make arrests when the protection orders are broken.

Ivy said government agencies such as the welfare department and the Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development also need to step up.

“We non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have limited funds and reach, we cannot be everywhere at the same time but they (the government) can,” she said.

 Meanwhile to commemorate their achievements the NGO is organising “Pesta WAO” as part of the 30th Anniversary on Sept 30. The  event will include a jumble sale and a concert between 11am and 5pm at a field opposite the WAO office in Section 14, Petaling Jaya.



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