The Women and Family and Community Development Ministry has urged all Malaysians to stand up and speak out about violence against women and girls.
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW), the ministry is calling all Malaysians to wear orange (the official colour of the campaign) and support victims of violence and encourage them to come forward and report incidences of violence they have experienced.
With the hashtag #stopviolenceagainstwomen and #kitajagawanita, the ministry has also urged victims of violence to speak out and report their experience and to reach out to Talian Kasih (15999) for help should they need it.
This year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is "Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect" and like in previous years, this year's International Day will mark the launch of 16 Days of Activism, a campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence that will end on Dec 10 which is International Human RIghts Day.
When victims of violence speaks up about the abuse or harassment they face, believe them.
If there is one thing that all Malaysians can do to support victims of violence, says the Women's Centre for Change, it is to believe their stories.
"More often than not, victims of violence and harassment are blamed for the abuse they experience," says WCC programme director Karen Lai.
"As recently as July, an MRSM lecturer took issue with our infographic poster on the causes of rape, and ranted on Instagram about how it is the victim's fault if she is raped, due to her clothing or her behaviour.
"Such attitudes need to change, if we want to see positive change and an environment where women and girls are able to speak up and confidently claim their rights.
"Otherwise, many instances of violence against women and girls will remain under the radar, as victims are silenced due to the fear of being blamed," she says.
In conjunction with IDEVAW today, WCC is launching a short video (called The Shower, a Public Service Announcement that carries the message to #BelieveNotBlame victims (#JanganSalahkanMangsa) so that they receive the support they need to get help and access justice.
"This year, we WCC stands in solidarity with sexual assault victims who often face the risk of being blamed due to societal stigma and patriarchal norms," says Lai.
The Shower, says Lai, is based on a true story or rather a composite of real life experiences faced by the women that WCC have supported over the years.
"At WCC, as is the case nationwide, the majority of victims of sexual assault are teenage girls or children below 18.
"The protagonist in The Shower, a teenager named Laila, tells her best friend and schoolmate Nadia about how she was molested by her brother-in-law in the shower.
"Laila tells her sister about the incident but instead of being supported, Laila is blamed for the incident. Laila goes online to get help but all she sees are disparaging comments blaming victims of rape and sexual assault.
"However, Nadia encourages Laila to speak to one of their teachers who taught them that it's not the victim's fault. With Nadia's encouragement, Laila agrees to do so," she shares.
The video was funded by the German Embassy Kuala Lumpur.
The shadow pandemic
In their message on their website, UN Women has also highlighted the increased risk that women face during the pandemic.
"As countries went into lockdown and restricted movement to contain the spread of the virus, reports of all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, began to rise," the agency said on their website.
"The pandemic of violence against women, however, is not new. Even before Covid-19, globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in the past 12 months."
In Malaysia, the Women, and Family Development Ministry reported a spike in calls to the Talian Kasih hotline, initiating increased allocation in the Budget 2021 for helplines s well as shelters for battered women and children.
"This year, the IDEVAW is more significant than ever," shares Lai. "The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the risk of violence against women and children, especially in the home. Statistics worldwide have shown a spike in domestic violence during lockdown, making it the 'shadow pandemic' that needs to be acknowledged as a public health issue.
"The severe economic fallout from the pandemic is also likely to result in husbands or other male adults staying at home due to unemployment or less work.
"With schooling being delayed and no external curriculum, children will now have less access to teachers and friends should sexual abuse happen in the home, as it often does.
"In addition, with children’s increased reliance on online platforms for their lessons during the pandemic, their risk of exposure to online predators and inappropriate content is also heightened.
"With increased dependency on the internet on the whole, we foresee online violence against women and children as an emerging threat," says Women Centre for Change programme director, Karen Lai.
What we can do
The easiest we can all do to help victims of violence, Lai says, is to believe them.
"Most of us would agree in principle with ending violence against women and girls. It is important to follow this up with concrete action.
"For a start, Malaysians can mark this day and demonstrate their commitment to the cause by supporting the work of women's organisations working directly on issues of violence against women and girls.
"Malaysians can also show practical support for our work by making a donation, volunteering their time and services with us, and spread the word about us to help increase publicity and visibility for our cause - a good way to do this is to follow our social media pages where updates on these issues are posted regularly," says Lai.
Listening to women and girls is also the message of the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) who have launched an online network for girls called "Girls Take Over" to give a voice to young girls to talk about issues that matter to them.
"This IDEVAW, we need to focus on challenging our gender biases, changing our cultural norms and amplifying the narratives of women and girls.
"We need to make a conscious effort in working towards a better future for our women and girls, a future where they have the right and freedom to live in a safe environment," says Hannah Reshma Jambunathan, capacity building officer at WAO.
If you are experiencing violence or know someone who is, call: Women's Aid Organisation (03-7956 3488/03-7955 4426), WAO Rape Hotline (03-7960 3030), AWAM (03-7877 4221/7877 0224), Sisters in Islam (03-7960 6121), Befrienders (03-7956 8144/03-7956 8145), Bukit Aman (general line 03-2262 6222) and WCC (04-228 0342/04-2285784).
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