A wider per­spec­tive

There is a need to see vi­o­lence against women as a fam­ily is­sue, and more sup­port ser­vices for sur­vivors of abuse.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By DZIREENA MA­HADZIR star2@thes­tar.com.my

‘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.”

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