Walking the talk with WAO: Ending violence against women

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Married at 19. Dead at the hands of her husband at 29.

Nurhidayah A Ghani endured ten years of abuse, often witnessed by her four young children. She was beaten for the final time for wearing “indecent clothes” – her injuries so severe that most of her internal organs were destroyed.

Nurhidayah’s case clearly highlighted how the system and her community failed her. Although she had left her home many times, and her family had lodged ten police reports between 2009 and 2013, no arrests were made, despite the violation of the Interim Protection Order (IPO). Her pleas for help were ignored by her neighbours.

After the court declared her husband guilty of her murder, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) issued a statement urging the community to do more to protect women – a reminder that “domestic violence is not a personal family matter, but a devastating crime that can rip families apart and cost women their lives.”

“Abuse isn’t always black and blue”

 “Domestic violence is the use of intimidating, manipulative, or coercive behaviour by one partner in an intimate relationship over another partner, for the purpose of gaining or maintaining power and control. [It is] habitual, repeated, and random.”

While we often associate this with physical abuse, it can take many other forms, including social, sexual and financial abuse. 

The most common form of abuse is psychological 

93% of the survivors sheltered by WAO reported this form of abuse at the hands of their partners. It often goes unreported, as many women struggle to recognise the signs of coercive control,  or remain convinced that the signs of psychological abuse are invisible and thus, unprovable. 

This is false.

The Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Keganasan Rumah Tangga or the guidelines published by the the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development  (KPWKM) outlined the coordinated response that should be taken when a woman lodges a police report.

She should be referred to the Welfare Department, or Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM). A JKM officer could then accompany the survivor for a mental state assessment in a hospital, which in turn, could be used as part of the investigation and for the issuance of the IPO.

1 in 3 women experience violence

It could happen to anyone.

In March 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that violence against women is “endemic in every country and culture”. Sadly, the ones most at risk are young women. By the time they reach their mid-twenties, 1 in 4 women in a relationship would have experienced violence at the hands of their partner.

A study conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) found that 9% of all Malaysian women in a relationship, or 800,000 women have experienced domestic violence. But this number could be significantly higher as many survivors choose not to report their abuse to the authorities.

Source: WAO

Violence has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic

If the prevalence of violence against women was alarming even before Covid-19 swept the globe, it has become “devastatingly pervasive” and has in fact escalated during the pandemic.

In an interview with makchic, WAO Community Engagement Officer, Alicia Lee shared that they have received a dramatic increase in reports of domestic violence since the introduction of the lockdowns or Movement Control Orders (MCO) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

1,786 reports were received from January to June 2020. 1,572 cases were recorded during the same period in 2021.

Alicia added, “in a span of 4 days within the week of the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) in July 2021, WAO has received 12 domestic violence requests for rescues and we fear many more are in need of help.” 

Providing refuge for women and children since 1982

WAO established Malaysia’s first domestic violence shelter in 1982 and remains the largest service provider for domestic violence survivors in the country. Despite providing shelter for more than 100 survivors each year, WAO emphasised that there is a pressing need for more in Malaysia.

“International best practices recommend a minimum of one family place in a women’s shelter per 10,000 people, but Malaysia only has an estimated one family place per 72,538 people,” shared Tan Heang-Lee, Advocacy and Communications Officer for WAO.

Limited resources and capacity have forced WAO to be selective. “There are three criteria for admission to our shelter: first, the survivor is in a crisis; second, she has no other support system; and third, she has no suicidal or self-harm tendencies,” explained Tan. WAO currently do not have the capacity to take in these residents. “In those cases, we would refer the individual to the hospital or a mental health professional,” she added.

Source: WAO

“More than just a bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads”

Providing shelter is just one small part of the work WAO has been doing support and protect survivors. To WAO, shelter also means “facilitating a survivor’s access to physical safety, legal protection, justice, and the post-shelter support that will empower her to move towards a better, safer future that is free from violence.”  A survivor’s journey is a long and arduous one, and WAO supports them at every step of the way. 


  • Free and confidential consultation services – WAO’s 24-hour Hotline and Think I Need Aid (TINA) WhatsApp services reach over 3,000 women each year.  Survivors can also make appointments for face-to-face consultations and access other services including social work, which will help them navigate the justice system. 
Source: WAO
  • Recreational, psychosocial and skills enhancement programmes – These programmes aim to empower survivors in their journey towards healing. One such programme is Power Up, curated for women in the B40 community and survivors of gender-based violence. It provides opportunities for women to learn practical skills, such as entrepreneurship, basic IT skills, and media marketing. Extensive sewing courses allow survivors to produce handmade goods for WAO’s Stitching Forward programme, which corporate partners have utilised as corporate gifts.
  • Survivor support – Support continues even after a survivor leaves the Refuge. Recognising the critical need for affordable child care, children of survivors also enjoy the enrichment and educational programmes provided at WAO’s Child Care Centre.

Fighting the good fight

These are just some of WAO’s incredible efforts in recent years:

Facing challenges

WAO’s limited resources have been stretched thin in response to the increasing need for support from survivors during the pandemic. Crucially, the economic crisis has reduced financial aid, especially during the most critical point- when survivors need to escape their abusers and leave their homes.

Alicia shared that the pandemic has also incurred additional costs, “[We need] extra measures to keep our staff and survivors safe –  from coordinating a survivor’s rescue, to screening them for COVID-19 and quarantining them in a safe space separately before admitting them into our shelter. Supporting a family to escape abuse can cost an average of RM3,500 for a minimum of 7 days.” 

A call to action for the community

Now, more than ever, WAO needs us to come together and support their work in ending violence against women. The iWalk 2021 campaign is a call to action for the community. 

Team makchic will be walking the iWalk 5km Challenge this November,  to demonstrate our hope for survivors to walk away and live a life free from violence. Proceeds from your registration will help them continue their very important role against domestic violence in Malaysia. We urge you to join us (and WAO) by registering here.

A biologist by training, Najmin has worked as a management consultant, ran a community-supported agriculture (CSA) programme out of an integrated goat farm, and helped manage an equine centre. Mum of 3 kids- all in school, she wants to spend more time reading, writing, hiking and sharing her discovery of fun local places at Mums of Makchic.