By Mariam Mokhtar
Every day in Perak, around 10 women or children, fall victim to domestic violence. On November 1, it was reported that 97% of the 3,600 cases of violence against women, children and babies in the previous year, were perpetrated by men. Wanita Umno chief, Rosnah Kassim said, “Something must be done to curb the increasing trend of cases in the state.”
Earlier in the year, on May 5, Dr. Sharifah Halimah Jaafar said that ‘there were still people who see domestic violence as trivial…. to be settled privately between husband and wife’. She said, “Cases of women being beaten up by their husbands are not a one-off matter. It is a cycle that has happened many times.” Despite various public awareness campaigns, men continue to treat their wives as personal chattels, to treat as they please and to discard at their leisure.
In a report compiled by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), with data sourced from the police, the figures make grim reading.
Every year the police receive in excess of 3,000 reports of domestic violence. Apart from a dip in 2002 and 2003 which could be attributed to increased awareness or possibly under-reporting, the trend of attacks against women is on the rise. The same occurs for rape, incest and child abuse. Nevertheless, few people realise that the figures compiled refer to reported cases only. The true figure is higher.
If Wanita Umno reported that Perak has the most cases of violence, then the task that is faced by women’s organisations such as the Perak Women for Women (PWW) is a mammoth one. On October 31, the PWW held the ‘Men against violence campaign’ at the Polo Ground in Ipoh. There were various activities and free ice-cream for participants.
The aim was to increase awareness among the public, and include men and families, in the day’s event. The irony of this campaign was that it was the women who organised, managed and ran the event, for which the men’s contribution was to either officiate or join in the activities.
Domestic Violence Act
Many women have not heard of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) 1994 which says that domestic violence is a crime punishable by law. Besides their ignorance, women are reluctant to lodge police-reports. They fear being humiliated, ridiculed or even blamed for the violence. They fear for their future if the only breadwinner in the family – the man, is jailed. Others fear for their children’s safety. Although 3,600 cases were reported in Perak last year, the chances are that more women are affected.
Violence against women includes domestic violence, rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment, trafficking and sexual exploitation. Most of the time, this violence is committed by men who are in a close relationship with the women, or who are known to them. These women suffer bruising, broken limbs, miscarriages, mental and physical scars, risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS. Some women die from the attacks.
Great Losses Incurred
The damage in human and economic terms is also great. Loss of income, hospitalisation, medical treatment, family care, incapacitation, disability, deprivation and absence from work or school, are some of the ways the violence manifests itself.
Unfortunately, our culture can stand in the way of helping these abused women. Ours is a male-dominated society where women are afraid or are reluctant to report such crimes, thus bringing further shame onto the family. Many children may also witness the abuse of their mothers or sisters, but are afraid of reporting when threatened by the perpetrators.
The way forward is for the community to realise that women who are abused are protected by the law. Promotional campaigns, information leaflets in hospitals, clinics, community halls, places of worship and education in schools, all help. People must be prepared to come forward and report any suspected cases of abuse either in their own family or community.
We must break the social taboos and speak out against the violence towards women because to keep silent means that their suffering will continue unabated. Ours should be a vision of a society where our womenfolk can lead a normal life free from violence or even the threat of violence.