Responsibility to eliminate violence against women rests with each of us

The realisation that violence against women is everywhere struck me suddenly and irreversibly.

I had gone to watch a Bollywood film at Mid Valley Megamall, expecting a three-hour escape and sugar rush from caramel popcorn, but instead, I came out of the theatre with a heaviness I hadn’t anticipated.

The movie was (unsurprisingly) a story about unrequited love, and the violence in it was subtle enough that most of the moviegoers around me would not have flinched. That was what shocked me – how casual it was – a push here, a shove there.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. For many people, the idea of violence against women seems removed – it is something that happens to women at the hands of evil strangers in other places, not here.

But in reality, violence against women is everywhere. It happens on our streets. It happens in our homes. It is in the movies and serials we watch, in the novels we read, and even in the jokes we unwittingly repeat. And for many among us, it is an everyday reality.

Intimate partner violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women; according to the World Health Organisation, nearly one-third of women globally who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

In Malaysia, a study by the Women’s Development Research Centre (KANITA) at Universiti Sains Malaysia found that nine per cent (or around 800,000) of ever-partnered women in peninsular Malaysia have experienced domestic violence.

The normalisation of violence against women starts early and is a difficult convention to break if left unchecked.

In one case in which the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) provided shelter and case management services to a survivor of domestic violence and her children, the survivor’s sons, aged 10 and 12, seemed to have already normalised some of their father’s violent behaviour towards themselves and their mother, not viewing hitting as a form of abuse.

They also unknowingly exhibited certain patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes, such as questioning their mother for wearing makeup, or their sister for speaking to a boy on the phone.

But just as easily as violence can become commonplace and pervasive, it can be rejected until it no longer has a place in our communities or in our homes.

Domestic violence shelters and crisis hotlines run by the government and NGOs like WAO play a critical role in the rejection of violence – they provide women and children who have nowhere else to go, with choices, and remind them that they have the right to live a life free from violence.

With the necessary interventions, many women have been able to free themselves from violence, while their children who grew up in abusive households have unlearned the normalisation of violence and gone on to thrive.

At WAO I’ve been reminded of this potential to break the cycle of violence on countless occasions, including a few years ago when WAO’s Child Care Centre was struck by lightning and severely damaged in a resulting fire.

A man showed up one day to make a donation towards the construction of our new Child Care Centre. He stepped out of his Mercedes Benz in a pressed suit and proceeded to explain to us that his mother had been a survivor of domestic violence and that he had stayed at WAO’s shelter as a child.

He had not only broken the cycle of violence, he wanted to pay it forward.

This International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a call to action to reject violence against women in all its forms, in our everyday decisions both big and small. It can be as simple as refusing to consume media that we know normalises this violence, or discreetly offering help to a neighbour we suspect is being abused.

Ultimately, the responsibility to eliminate violence against women rests with each of us.

Tagged with: