A Facebook group is trying to reach out to women who refuse to be subservient to men who mistreat them.
THE COW started it all, says lawyer Nik Elin Nik Rashid with a serious face.
Seeing the shock splattered on the faces of those in the room, she gives a small laugh before continuing, “You know, the Club of Obedient Wives – COW (or OWC as the club prefers to be known).
“We did not want to be women who were cowed into being subservient to their husbands, so we started this Facebook group to support women who are going through bad times in their relationships.”
Tagged Wibawa Women (Wibawa means self-assured, confident and assertive), the cyber support group is open mainly to women who are going through divorce, have gone through divorce, or thinking of going through divorce.
Single women who have yet to walk down the aisle are also welcomed.
The group’s main aim is to empower women with knowledge and an awareness of their rights. However, those interested to join, especially men, will have to go through a stringent selection process.
Why the exclusivity?
“We don’t want any husbands or exes to use the Facebook group to hound or spy on their wives.
“Then there are the new wives or girlfriends who cannot leave their partner’s exes alone.
“We also want to protect our members from those who might have their own agenda for joining,” Nik Elin explains.
When their Facebook group was first launched in the middle of this year, initially under the moniker Peristiwa or Persatuan Wanita dan Isteri Berwibawa, it was “hijacked” by a few individuals who wanted to push their own issues to the fore, and others who presumed that they could prey on its female members.
Now prospective members have to submit their “application” and are accepted only if they are deemed “friendly”.
Some 71 members have passed the screening to date.
Nik Elin is conscious that most of the Wibawa women are urbanites and professionals. “It is inevitable I guess, with it being on the Internet.”
The main thing, she adds, is that they are women with “baggage” who want to speak out and share their experiences.
And while many do go to Wibawa Women to vent, there is an increasing number who have moved on from their darkest moment in life and want to share their “know-how” with the other women who are struggling, she says.
“Even independent, professional women sometimes need to be inspired to pick up the pieces after their marriage breakdown and turn their lives around.
“The experience of those who have succeeded in rising above their troubles is valuable to the other members, especially those who are afraid to take the next step,” Nik Elin notes, sharing that when she was going through her own divorce, she had wished for a similar support group.
“Many could not believe that I was going through hell. People thought I was this successful lawyer who knew my rights but there I was, struggling in my marriage.
“Ironically, I was the opposite of how I appeared. That’s why I really believe that it is important for women ‘in trouble’ to get connected and share their experiences.”
Writer Dina Zaman, another Wibawa woman, agrees that the Facebook group has been a good forum for women to exchange experiences.
Too many take whatever is dished out to them because they do not know their rights, especially those with children, she points out.
“I know so many women who tolerate injustice in their divorce settlements because they do not want to lose custody of their children or because they want their ex-husbands to maintain good relationships with their children.
“But I ask you, is the father thinking of his children, for example, when he asks for a lower child maintenance payment?”
Dina believes that there is a growing modern phenomenon that compels many otherwise intelligent and independent women to stay in bad relationships – the pressure to be successful in all aspects of their lives.
“No one wants to be a failure. That was exactly what happened to me. I wanted to be successful in everything.
“I was a straight-A student and had excelled in everything when I was younger, so I stayed as long as I could in my marriage even though I was unhappy.”
Only after she got over her “shame”, she says, was she able to get out of her bad marriage.
“I got over my shame and I think more women should do that – they should not be ashamed of failing at a marriage.”
This is one thing that Wibawa Women tries to promote, says Nik Elin – that divorce is not uncommon.
“Women need to accept that and be brave to walk out of their bad marriages. That is why we try to share our experiences and work things out together.
“Wibawa Women wants to give ‘troubled’ women the support for them to get the courage to move on. We deserve better, and that is the most important thing in life – to move on,” says Nik Elin, who took seven years to overcome her fear before walking out of her failed marriage.
“I was suffering in silence and going mental, clinging on to a bad marriage because I felt that I needed the emotional support.”
However, making that big decision is the first hurdle, Dina warns, as many face problems in the court system, especially in the syariah court.
Delays in divorce proceedings, difficulty in getting maintenance payment and settling other divorce issues are common problems faced by women.
“The biggest reason is the unfriendly court staff who do not give the correct information to women who are seeking divorce. Then there are those who are just sexist – instead of helping the women, they treat them rudely and make nasty comments.”
It does not matter if you are rich or poor, a professional or a housewife, you seem to get the same ‘bad’ treatment,” says Dina, who shares that she was lucky her father accompanied her to court. “I got better treatment,” she quips.
An absent husband is another problem faced by many women who are in the middle of their divorce proceedings in court.
Laying out the problem, Nik Elin says: “If you go to the court, you see only women. Where are the men? Where are the husbands?
“I met someone who said she had been waiting for four years to get her divorce as her case kept getting postponed month after month due to her absent husband (who did not turn up at court).”
Many do not know that they can get help at the Legal Aid Centre, she adds.
“So you have those who go up and down the court for years, some with their children tagging along, because they do not know their rights. Many of these single mothers are struggling financially and they have to travel to and from the court. Some even come from outside KL just for their case to be heard.”
This is why it is important that women know their rights, she stresses.
Syariah lawyer Saadiah Din, a Wibawa friend, emphasises the importance of knowledge, especially since many amendments have been made to the procedures to facilitate the process for women.
“Now it is possible to get the court to grant you a divorce if your husband does not bother to turn up at court. Not many women know that,” she highlights.
Then there are the initiatives available for women that many are ignorant about, says Nik Elin, such as the family division at the Syariah Court Department.
“Women who have not received maintenance - after filing for divorce and being granted a maintenance order - can go to the division to get help if they can’t get their husband to pay.
“Those who are struggling financially can also get some help in the interim period. It is a good initiative but not many women know this,” she says.
Once we empower women with the knowledge and information on their rights in a marriage and divorce, we can reduce various social issues, stresses Nik Elin, pointing out that pleasing your husband as prescribed by the COW is not the answer.
“One essential knowledge for Islamic women to have is how to write your taqliq (prenuptial contract) to protect your rights in a marriage.
“It will keep your husband on his toes and he would know that he cannot get away with mistreating or abusing you,” she opines.
Wibawa Women also wants to reduce the stigma of divorce in society, especially among women who fear that divorcees will steal their husband.
“After their bad marital experience, I think most women would be a bit more discerning. They would be more selective, don’t you think?” Nik Elin offers a point to ponder.
Instead of condemning them, she says, society should rally around divorced women, especially those with children, and give them moral and financial support .
Ultimately, she adds, society needs to accept that divorce sometimes is inevitable.
“Everybody wishes for happy ever after but sometimes it just will not work and you need to get out of it. If my daughter was going through hell with her husband, I’d think of her health first – emotional and mental health. I would not pressure her to make it work no matter what.”