While the Budget 2021’s allocation of RM21mil towards domestic violence centres is well-received, two women’s groups believe that there are steps that need to be taken so that the allocation will be effective in improving the lives of domestic violence survivors.
A statement released by Engender Consultancy (a social enterprise advocating women empowerment and gender equality), and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) on Tuesday said that the RM21mil allocation towards domestic violence “local social support centres” as well as the MySTEP allocation for short-term social workers and medical officers in Budget 2021 is “a welcome step in the right direction”. The NGOs also expressed appreciation to the Ministry of Finance’s National Budget Office and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), for engaging in dialogue with civil society and taking steps to help improve the lives of domestic violence survivors.
But it adds that steps be taken to ensure that the RM21mil allocation will effectively help improve the lives of domestic violence survivors in the long run.
The first step, the NGOs suggest, is to create a committee, led by KPWKM’s National Committee on Domestic Violence, and including representatives from government and civil society, to ensure that the RM21mil allocation is well implemented, monitored and evaluated.
“Such a committee can help ensure funds are disbursed to maximise the availability and accessibility of domestic violence shelters for survivors. The committee can also monitor and evaluate the impact of the allocation and distribution to provide feedback for future federal and state budget cycles, ” the statement says.
The second step is to ensure domestic violence shelters adhere to good practices and standards, such as what is outlined in the Domestic Violence Shelter Standards and Toolkit created by KPWKM and WAO.
There is currently a lack of uniform standards for domestic violence shelters throughout the country. This results in significant disparities in the scope of services provided by shelters, including the security. Survivors’ experiences may vary widely depending on the shelter they have been referred to or is most geographically accessible to them.
Adopting uniform shelter standards at the federal level, as well as requiring adherence by organisations receiving the federal funding, will help ensure that these women have a consistent and uniform experience wherever they seek shelter.
The third step is to ensure that other essential domestic violence services such as crisis hotlines are provided.
Complementary resources such as crisis hotlines must be made available to survivors because these are an entry point for them to get advice and information on their options, including where they can go if they are in danger or have to leave their abusive home.
Hotlines such as KPWKM’s Talian Kasih and WAO’s 24-7 telephone and SMS/Whatsapp hotline enable survivors to get help at anytime of the day or night.
These hotlines also need to be sufficiently staffed with those who are sensitive to the needs of gender-based violence survivors and knowledgeable about the available support.
The fourth step is to ensure that the investment for domestic violence response is dedicated and ongoing because this is not a sudden or temporary issue.
Investment into domestic violence response and infrastructure should be a key component in every annual budget allocation at the federal and state level. The various aspects of the survivor’s experience must also be taken into account.
For example, survivors often need continued support to get back on their feet and become financially independent. So, allocations for low-cost transitional housing after survivors leave the shelter, as well as for affordable childcare are also necessary. The proposed committee can also help assess the other areas of the need survivors may have, and make recommendations to the government for future budget cycles.
The fifth step is to develop a coordinated domestic violence action plan through the National Committee on Domestic Violence. The needs of domestic violence survivors are served not just through dedicated allocations for shelters and other crisis support services but complemented by allocations to the police, welfare officers, and hospitals, all of whom play a critical role in domestic violence response.