The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN -

are deal­ing with raw emo­tions. And some­times, the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies do not want help. If we do not work to­gether, how are we go­ing to help them? We need many ex­perts work­ing to­gether to as­sess, in­ter­vene, en­force and pros­e­cute. It is very dif­fi­cult for a po­lice of­fi­cer to pro­vide coun­selling or to in­ter­vene.

“It is some­times im­pos­si­ble for a so­cial worker to en­sure en­force­ment or get a per­sonal pro­tec­tion or­der is­sues. That is why we need to work to­gether,” she stressed.

She added that while gov­ern­ment poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion pro­vide the frame­work for op­er­a­tion, it was their in­ter-agency co­or­di­na­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion that have en­abled the poli­cies to be car­ried out ef­fec­tively.

“We call it the ‘many help­ing hands ap­proach’. A key com­po­nent of this is the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Di­a­logue Group which is headed jointly by the min­istry and the Sin­ga­pore Po­lice Force. The group com­prises the fam­ily court, the Sin­ga­pore Pris­ons Ser­vice, the Min­istry of Health, Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, the Na­tional Coun­cil of So­cial Ser­vice and var­i­ous (non-gov­ern­men­tal) so­cial ser­vice agen­cies. The group is where the var­i­ous agen­cies sit to­gether to set strate­gic pol­icy frame­works as well as mea­sures to en­hance the ser­vices to fam­i­lies af­fected by vi­o­lence,” she said.

Be­cause the core group is rep­re­sented by all agen­cies in­volved, all de­ci­sions are jointly made and agreed upon by all par­ties, stressed Ong.

Un­der this core group comes var­i­ous other work­ing groups (rep­re­sented by var­i­ous agen­cies) to im­ple­ment pro­grammes that not only help the vic­tims of abuse and em­power them but also to pros­e­cute and re­ha­bil­i­tate the per­pe­tra­tors.

Manda­tory coun­selling is court-or­dered not only for the vic­tims but their fam­i­lies as well.

They talk to the vic­tims about mak­ing safety plans, un­der­stand­ing the im­pact and cy­cle of vi­o­lence as well as how to break the cy­cle.

Per­pe­tra­tors are also coun­selled and taught anger and con­flict man­age­ment skills, among other things. The pub­lic is also ed­u­cated on their rights.

A step in the right di­rec­tion

For WAO ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ivy Josiah, the roundtable is a pos­i­tive step to­wards es­tab­lish­ing an in­te­grated ap­proach in deal­ing with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in Malaysia.

“It was a pos­i­tive space where all the rel­e­vant agen­cies ex­pressed the want to work to­gether to im­prove our re­sponse to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. The brief­ing by Heather was both an eye opener and a re-af­fir­ma­tion.

“It was an eye opener be­cause th­ese multi-agency com­mit­tees across the is­land (Sin­ga­pore) are led by the po­lice and min­istry and they meet on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to mon­i­tor, re­view and re­spond to vi­o­lence in the fam­ily. Women’s groups in Malaysia have been ad­vo­cat­ing an in­te­grated ap­proach for years and we see through the Sin­ga­pore model, that this can truly work,” says Josiah.

Meera Sa­man­ther, who is pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Women Lawyers, says she was im­pressed not only by how the Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties and the so­cial ser­vice agen­cies work to­gether seam­lessly but also at the amount of fund­ing NGOs get from the gov­ern­ment to run their joint pro­grammes.

“The gov­ern­ment and the var­i­ous agen­cies don’t just have an ad-hoc re­la­tion­ship. They work to­gether and view do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as their col­lec­tive is­sue. We do have col­lab­ora- tions here but they are largely piece­meal and there is no real com­mit­ment to see things through be­cause th­ese col­lab­o­ra­tions are not in­sti­tu­tion­alised.

“Another strik­ing point was how the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment funds up to 80% of the ser­vices run by agen­cies and vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions. For us, it is a con­stant strug­gle for women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions to raise funds. We have to con­stantly worry about it and work hard to en­sure we have funds and don’t have a cri­sis where we don’t have enough funds to hire so­cial work­ers. Just be­cause we are an NGO, it doesn’t mean we have to pay our so­cial work­ers poorly. They are pro­fes­sion­als and if we pay ap­pro­pri­ately, we will get the best. Any job well done must be re­mu­ner­ated,” says Sa­man­ther.

She clar­i­fied that the aim of the ses­sion was not to point fin­gers at any one party but to build a last­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween all agen­cies.

“We need to come to­gether and re­alise that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is ev­ery­one’s prob­lem. It can hap­pen to any­one and if we don’t work to­gether, ev­ery­one loses,” she says.

While Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment un­der­sec­re­tary (pol­icy di­vi­sion) Dr Waitchalla Sup­piah could not be reached for com­ment, Josiah said that there were pos­i­tive out­comes from the roundtable. One of the first calls to ac­tion is the draft­ing of a set of guide­lines by the min­istry, en­ti­tled ‘work­ing to­gether’, which will out­line the roles of the var­i­ous agen­cies that re­spond to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“We will work with the min­istry to en­sure that the work­ing to­gether doc­u­ment, which spec­i­fies the spe­cific roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of ev­ery agency is out­lined by Jan­uary next year. We will also fol­low up with the min­istry, the po­lice and the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s cham­bers and keep this is­sue alive. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­sponse has to be dra­mat­i­cally im­proved if we want to save lives,” she said.

‘We need to come to­gether and re­alise that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is ev­ery­one’s prob­lem. it can hap­pen to any­one and if we don’t work to­gether, ev­ery­one loses,’ says meera Sa­man­ther.

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