The United Nations has earmarked November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Priya Kulasagaran looks at the depth of the phenomenon, and speaks to survivors of such violence
While women have made significant progress towards gender equality compared to the days of yore, it sometimes feels that not that much has changed.
In its study of sexual violence, the World Health Organisation calls violence against women a “global pandemic”, estimating that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Other research further estimates that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than 6% of men killed in the same year.
In 1993, the United Nations passed its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, making note of the historically unequal power relations between men and women. Violence against women then, is “one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”.
The term “violence against women” can be nebulous as it covers many forms of violence. There is intimate partner violence, which refers to violence within marriages and romantic relationships, and there is sexual violence such as rape and assault. While men can indeed be abused by their partners, and be subjected to rape, and overwhelming majority of those at the receiving end are women. Female genital mutilation, honour killings, and the trafficking of women are also rather rooted in gender inequality.
Needless to say, any form of violence has a range of health effects. Survivors often experience depression, post-traumatic stress, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. This in turn leads to an inability to work, financial insecurity, lack of participation in regular activities, and a limited ability for survivors to care for themselves. Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances.
In Malaysia, some 57,519 cases of violence against women were reported between 2010 and March 2017 according to police statistics. Of these, 40% or 23,212 cases were domestic violence cases with women as victims, while the other incidents involved molestation, incest, rape and other offences.
Unlike any other illness, there is no specific vaccine or medication for stop this violence, as there is no single cause as to why it happens. More than individual perpetrators, entire societies also allow this violence to occur, by encouraging deeply rooted misogyny to fester.
While building an awareness of rights among women and girls is important, it is equally important to address the lessons of masculinity which contribute to violence against women with boys and men. Studies from diverse settings have documented many social norms and beliefs that support violence against women. These include believing that men are considered socially superior; that sexual intercourse is a man’s right in marriage; a woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together; and that women are responsible for controlling a man’s sexual urges.
While governments and policy makers can do more to enact laws to ensure women’s safety, it is society itself that needs to change to stem the tide of violence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, here are some resources to reach out to.
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Aside from free shelter and counselling, WAO offers crisis support to women and children who have experienced abuse and rape. They also assist survivors in accessing public services such as the police, hospitals and welfare departments.
WAO hotline: 03 7956 3488
Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm
Extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 7pm to 10pm
TINA (Think I Need Aid) SMS/ WhatsApp hotline
018 988 8058 (24 hours)
All-Women’s Action Movement (AWAM)
AWAM offers counselling and legal information through its Telenita Helpline.
Call 03 7877 0224 for more information or to make an appointment.
Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
WCC provides temporary shelter for abused women and children, and helps survivors liaise with government agencies for further assistance. The centre also offer e-counselling via email.
Contact WCC at 04 228 0342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The centre operates from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 6pm.
One Stop Crisis Centres (OSCC)
The OSCC is set up at emergency rooms in all government hospitals, and handles all cases involving abuse, violence and exploitation of adults and children. It is open 24 hours a day.
Medical services are provided for free, and you can make a police report at the centre itself.