A wider perspective
There is a need to see violence against women as a family issue, and more support services for survivors of abuse.
‘It’s not enough just to say poor thing, women are being raped and beaten. you have to go the source of the problem, and it is gender inequality, disrespect and plain misogyny,’ says WAO executive director Ivy Josiah.
ALOT has changed in the 28 years that Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah has spent helping abused women, but there is still a lot more to be done to make women’s lives better. Although Josiah thinks only 10% of the work has been done, she says she is an “eternal optimist” and believes change is possible.
“I think we’re living in a very exciting time in Malaysia. People are so aware about everything and want to claim their rights. Social media tools have closed the gap; we are one tweet away from the Prime Minister,” says Josiah in a recent interview at the WAO office in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
“We see more younger women coming out to lodge complaints, seek advice, stand up against violence – so that’s a good trend. When I began this work (in 1982), a lot of women who came to us had been suffering from violence for over 10 years.
“Now, at the first incident of violence – in the first year of marriage or relationship – they call in to ask if this is right or wrong.
“Believe me, men can change if we get them early. But if we talk to them 10 years down the road, it’s deep-seated and they believe that what they’re doing is all right because the woman has kept giving them chances and they believe the whole world should give them chances, too,” says Josiah.
One of the most important milestones in the work to eliminate violence against women is the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 1994, which then took another two years to be implemented. Another significant amendment to the act was passed last week whereby violence against women would also now include mental, emotional and psychological abuse. The bill also stipulated that husbands and wives would be treated equally in cases of spousal abuse.
“We’re looking at 17 years of the Act in place, and I am really excited that psychological violence is recognised. Kudos to Parliament for recognising it and for passing that amendment.
“The full effectiveness of the Act is in implementing it. Now that psychological violence is recognised, it’s a huge jump. Batterers learn very quickly that they need to stop the physical violence, it is something that the law is clear about. Inflicting humiliation, both private and public, is a strong sign that your husband or boyfriend is a batterer,” she says.
There is also a need to see that domestic violence is a family issue, and not just a women’s issue.
“The important thing to me is a holistic approach to the rights of women in a family especially when they are going through domestic violence. It’s high time family courts are set up, and we get proper help with child maintenance. We need to ensure there is sufficient safety, protection and support when they’re going through a court process. The courts really need to improve on their response,” says Josiah.
There is also a need for a better support system, especially when it comes to visitation rights.
“Say the woman is going through a divorce, and the husband takes the children for visits. If he has shown a history of violence and wants to punish the mother, he should not have unsupervised visits.
“Time and time again, we’ve had fathers – who are batterers – abduct the child, in order to continue to abuse and wield control over the mother.”
Josiah says “where domestic violence is concerned, we’ve only done 10%.”
Although the system is in place for abused women to lodge reports and seek protection, there is a gap in support services for domestic violence survivors during and after the investigation.
The key to addressing violence against women, says Josiah, lies ultimately in addressing gender perceptions.
“It’s not enough just to say poor thing, women are being raped and beaten. You have to go the source of the problem, and it is gender inequality, disrespect and plain misogyny.”
There is a need, she says, to transform the mindset of society, especially the men’s. As it is, women already have enough to worry about – families, rising costs, the children’s safety. These days, women also worry about their safety outside the house.
“It is this fear that modifies and controls our behaviour. It’s the same thing with domestic violence, he doesn’t need to touch you any more, he just needs to look at you. That’s why there’s a gender perspective to the issue of crimes on the street; the impact on women is far greater.
“We start restricting ourselves. We don’t go out, we are careful where we go and what we do. It restricts our freedom of movement, freedom of dress sometimes, so there is a climate of fear. That’s why it’s so important to keep the public and private space safe – and that takes everybody.
“A positive development today is that it’s not just women’s groups that are looking into issues regarding women’s rights and safety issues. Now, practically everyone is picking up social issues, from women’s magazines to companies and the media – it’s not just the NGOs, and that helps to contribute to a better awareness among the public.”