Nor Fadilah Mohamed Nizar has been through tough times but they had also brought out the best in her. She found she had the strength and tenacity to overcome challenges. But she is also determined to use the lessons she has learnt to help other distressed women.
Fadilah also knows there are other strong women like her, and she had gathered them to form Jeiwa (Johor Empowerment of Intellectual Women). It’s a non-government organisation of professional and career women focused on helping battered women start anew.
“We want to empower women and support them in any way we can. Whether it is in getting out of an abusive relationship, going through the court process, rebuilding their lives and careers, building on their self confidence … we are there to support them and help however we can. All of us in Jiewa have been through it all and we are able to empathise and draw from our experience to help others,” says Fadilah, who heads the NGO which will be officially launched next month.
Having a support network is crucial, says Dr Haliza Zurah Zulkefeli who spent the last year in and out of court to get her divorce.
“I contacted WAO’s sms-line for help and thankfully, through their help and the support from the women at Jeiwa as well as aid from the Women Development department, I persisted and my ex-husband was convicted in both civil court (for the abuse) and Syariah court. He is still fighting my case for maintenance but at least I got my divorce,” shares Dr Haliza who has since become a member of Jeiwa. Her ex husband pleaded guilty before the Magistrate’s Court for voluntarily causing hurt and was fined RM1,500 in default three months’ jail and ordered to pay RM400 as compensation.
Apart from NGOs, Aliah suggests that help can also be obtained from the Family Support Division of the Syariah Judiciary Department which can help enforce court orders for wives claiming maintenance.
“Another avenue is to seek financial aid from Baitulmal service which provides assistance for women who qualify. Our legal advise service at Sisters in Islam provides legal advise to Muslim women to know their rights and to access justice the Syariah courts,” says Aliah.
Filing for a divorce, maintenance and custody can affect women psychologically and emotionally.
Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sharifah Halimah Jaafar says that although most women are able to mask their emotions and put up a brave front for the sake of their children, the effects of the trauma may manifest as psychosomatic physical symptoms.
“One lady I know suffered from a stress-induced peptic ulcer and had to undergo emergency surgery due to a perforated gastric ulcer. She was a bank officer, who filed for a divorce from her husband after 10 years of living in fear and agony due to domestic violence.
“It took more than three years for her to finally get her divorce and another five years to get custody of her three children, maintenance and division or settlement of the property.
Each time her case got postponed she would be in such despair as she found it emotionally draining. It also ate up her finances.
“At the same time, her husband continued to harass her in public and threatened to harm her if she persisted with the case. In the end, she had to apply for a job transfer and moved her children to another state. Even so, she used to feel scared and could not sleep much,” shares Dr Sharifah who is the medical advisor to Jeiwa.
Women need support to be able to cope with the emotional and psychological trauma that can come with a contentious divorce, she says.
“It is difficult to keep fighting without letting the process affect their mental and emotional well being. You need a strong determination and will power but even so, it is a challenge and difficult to go through it alone.
“Support from family and friends are essential as well as having positive role models ... women who have succeed in their battle and have become stronger are often a good source of hope,” says the Johor-based doctor.
For single mum Sofia, getting help when she felt she was about it ‘lose it’ got her through her four-year court battle for divorce and custody of her son. “There were times I was depressed. I actually saw a psychiatrist who prescribed me anti-depressants which helped me function like a normal human being again. Once I got back on my feet and felt I could cope, I went off the medicines,” she shares.
It is crucial for women to take time out for themselves too, to maintain some sort of normalcy.
“I think we need to know that it’s ok to take care of ourselves through this ordeal. It’s ok to have fun even though we may be separated from out children and fighting for custody. We don’t need to feel bad if we are happy. If we are strong and happy, we will be empowered to fight harder,” surmises Sofia.