From the Editor’s desk
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The general perception among Malaysians is that wife-beating and other forms of abuse (physical, sexual, verbal and mental) perpetrated by husbands, are caused by the women themselves. The root cause, many theorise, originates from the wife who provokes the husband into acting in such a manner. This mistaken assumption has affected the way authorities handle complaints on abuses. The President of the Perak Women for Women Society (PWW), Dr. Sharifah Halimah, voiced her concerns over this phenomenon at a press conference held at the society’s premises recently.
“Women are being constantly maltreated and the trend is on an upswing. Unfortunately, our society is not treating the matter seriously enough”, she remarked. “She faulted the women themselves for allowing the unthinkable to happen. They suffer in silence for fear of losing face or being ostracised by their family members. They fear being blamed for not knowing how to entertain their husbands and, foremost, they fear for their children’s and their future.” These feelings of insecurity impacted the way women respond to abuses by their husbands.
The blame game is endemic in the way societies, especially those in Asia, treat their male members. Boys are taught from young that they are superior. “This gets instilled in men and thus explains their aggressive tendencies”, said Sharifah. “Although some may find this highly disputable, the truth is there for all to see.” The other factor is the man’s background. “If the husband comes from a family with a violent past, it’s highly probable that he would do the same to his wife. It’s a vicious cycle.”
In 2007 alone, there are 3,756 reported cases of wife and child abuses nationwide. “However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The number is greater considering those that went unreported”, Sharifah revealed.
Slow Response from Authorities
The PWW president felt that authorities entrusted with caring for the welfare of women and children should play a more responsible role in discharging their duties. Frontline officers at some government departments lacked the initiative, knowledge and the drive to push through applications for protection orders submitted by the aggrieved parties. “Victims have to agonise for days and weeks to see their IPO (Interim Protection Order) being processed. And while waiting, they’re being subjected to further harassment by their husbands”, Sharifah intimated.
“This attitude has to change. The well-being of these abused women is a priority.” She alluded to a case where the officer concerned had recommended counselling as a solution when the couple had already been divorced. “It’s this kind of indifference that’s driving victims from seeking help from the authorities concerned.” And one other indignity the women have to constantly endure is the snide remarks thrown at them, especially by female staff. As if this is not enough, they are being shunted from office to office without any compassion shown. They are seldom told of their rights and how to go about getting justice.
Sharifah admitted that awareness among women is still lacking and this is the cause of the attending apathy and neglect. “PWW will conduct campaigns and programmes, in the form of seminars and ceramah (talks), to educate women and schoolgirls, particularly, pertaining to the Domestic Violence Act 1994.” It is indeed a long and arduous journey one which is fraught with many obstacles.