A domestic violence survivor: ‘He didn’t allow me to smile’

A domestic violence survivor: ‘He didn’t allow me to smile’

Beads of sweat break out on Linda Iskandar’s forehead. Amid the serenity of the Christmas displays at the mall, she’s carted along her two kids, six and 12, dressed in matching blue T-shirts.

Linda had walked over from her house, about 10 minutes away on foot. She considers herself lucky to have found a new home within walking distance of her place of work and her sons’ school. But as with everything else in the city, convenience doesn’t come cheap.

In August last year, Linda and her sons left home. Her friend, who had once sought refuge at the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) shelter, had called her a taxi. Linda only had time to pack two bags, RM15 and some buns to get them through the night. She left her computer, tablet, broken mobile phone, and her favourite sci-fi novels behind.

Linda hasn’t gone back since. Her friend told her that nothing much of value is left in the house, after debt collectors paid a visit. They took everything and put it up for sale. Only her old passport was left.

“I couldn’t stand it anymore,” she says. “I didn’t have any food at home. I was working at the time, but I had to quit my job.

“I don’t know what happened, people were coming to my house. They wanted money from me, and said he (the husband) borrowed something from them. They threatened to take my sons.”

Linda, 45, took shelter in WAO for about two and a half months. When she was there, she participated in the creative writing workshop conducted by Bernice Chauly. Now, she’s here representing domestic violence survivors at the book launch of “Tina’s Journey,” reading a poem of her own at the event.

“I am not afraid to speak out. Most of the women are shy. Not shy, they are still ashamed of what happened to them.

“But this thing needs to be voiced out. It happens everywhere, but nobody is talking. I know there are still people suffering, they are just keeping it quiet,” she says.

It is hard to believe that this confident woman with a brilliant smile and a sharp sense of humour barely looked people in the eye in her 12-year marriage.

‘I feel ashamed’

“It is the way we are brought up,” Linda says. “Women, no matter how high they study, have to get back to the kitchen.

“Same thing. Obey your husband, even if he is wrong. Oh my god, I never married again. Two boys are enough, two little men in my life.”

Her Pakistani ex-husband used to ask her to request salary advances from her company, two or three hundred ringgit each time. She made up excuses, like not having enough money for food. He would spend the money wantonly.

“It always like that. I was fed up, but I still kept quiet, I don’t know why,” she confesses.

“I felt embarrassed and ashamed.”

But her friends advised her to listen to her husband – because he was her husband. That’s the feedback she got and she learned how to be domesticated, as an ideal woman like many others did.

Linda worked at a construction company in Brunei for 10 years, starting as a data analyst and working her way up to company representative for overseas meetings and training. She met her Pakistani husband after she came back to Malaysia, and they fell in love and got married.

At the beginning, both of them started a small food business somewhere near Masjid Jamek. They had to wake up at 5am in the morning, and brought along four big chickens in plastic bags every morning because they couldn’t afford an ice box that time.

Business was good and they made some money. Her husband planned to expand the business by recruiting more people, and wanted his wife to rest at home. He had aspirations of giving his wife a better life, but that was when things started to come undone.

He neglected the business, and it eventually had to be wound up.

They then tried their hand at a clothes business in Chow Kit, but disaster soon struck. Their shop caught fire. She and an employee tried saving what she could from the flames, although she was pregnant at the time.

The fire made the news. She had lost everything.

They started not being able to pay rent and moved from one place to another. Her husband couldn’t find decent work, eventually settling on a job which required at least 12 hours a day. His temper changed, and their relationship along with it.

‘Never reveal the skeletons’

The memory of how he first beat her is still vivid. It was in 2005, just two weeks after Linda had given birth. She was happy. They went out shopping one day, but after advising him to stop playing with his phone, he looked up, turned around and slapped her across the face in public.

The shock numbed the pain. Her newborn baby was in her arms. When they got home, he locked her up in a room for two days, so she wouldn’t run away.

“Never reveal the skeletons,” Linda told herself, despite the escalating abuse. She was covering for him. When she was first locked up, she didn’t dare scream for help. And the silence grew.

Things never got better. He called her ugly and old, reminding her that she was lucky to be with him. Every time she threatened to leave, he threatened her in turn with violence. He would interrupt the rare moments of levity she had with her kids, never allowing them to laugh.

Even his Facebook posts were of him and the children, but not her. Linda was becoming invisible.

She learned not to look people in the eye, especially other men. She started wearing long sleeves to work to hide the bruises and breaks. Hospital visits were done on her own.

Linda never lodged a police report, not even when he hit her with his car. She was afraid of her real condition seeing the light of day. “Never reveal the skeletons.” She clenched her hands together at job interviews, hoping the bosses would never get around to asking about her home life.

The only thought in Linda’s head when she attempted to kill herself was how he would benefit from inheriting her EPF.

Like many survivors do, Linda stayed put, despite being at the end of her tether. But when he started to abuse the children, she knew it was time to leave.

Seeking refuge

“Do you know the first thing women will do in the shelter?” Linda asks. “Sleep.”

She says you can hear the women snoring from the rooms, after leaving their children to play in the shelter. They cannot sleep well at home, and remain half-awake in case something bad happens.

“But at night, you will always hear muffled cries,” she adds, or screaming into pillows.

When Linda first got to the WAO shelter, she cried too. But she didn’t want her sons to see her in that state, so she did her crying in the backyard.

Linda refused to talk much to anyone at the beginning, and was also reluctant to join in any of the classes on offer, like yoga or handicraft classes. But she found refuge in the kitchen.

“I only put myself in the kitchen. When they need volunteers to cook, I said I’ll cook. The kitchen basically became my centre.” It reminded of the house she left with no food, and the hunger pangs she had when she was locked up in the room 12 years ago.

“The kitchen is fully functional. There is a lot of food. The fridge is big. There is a lot of chicken. All the spices you need are here. This was heaven for me. So I focused there, I channelled my energy there.”

After a time, Linda began to notice that women in the shelter were talking about their husbands, comparing whose was worse. Her friend told her that the women dared speak out because of a creative writing class. Out of curiosity, she signed up.

Linda was taken aback because of this friend, who was always shy and quiet, spoke up confidently in the workshop. But Linda was still reluctant to share her experience, even during the icebreaker session.

Until she wrote a poem one day. Reading it aloud, the class broke down in tears. “I was scared,” she says. “Was my experience worse than theirs?” But even the friends she had made at that point, who already knew her backstory, were crying. It was then she understood the power of writing.

Slowly, the creative writing workshop managed to unearth happy memories from Linda’s past, especially her childhood in Sabah.

“After Chauly’s class, I learned to accept things. It opens your eyes and your mind. She also taught us to love ourselves.”

She recalled that she worked in a “depressing bakery” as a teenager. But she was still able to have fun. “I pretended I was working in Hollywood. Everyone walked in was a superstar.”

The silence she had been forced into due to domestic violence had suppressed Linda’s sense of fun and humour – until the workshop.

Leaving the comfort zone

After two and a half months, Linda decided to walk away from the shelter, knowing that there is a danger of staying safe. The shelter had become too comfortable, and it was time for her to get back out in the world and face it head-on.

Secretary jobs were hard to come by, because of her age. Her experience washing dishes at home or in doing accounts were insufficient for the restaurant and retail jobs she applied for.

To make things worse, her sons missed their father too much and begged to go home. Linda refused their request in the beginning but eventually relented for the sake of her children.

Somewhat inevitably, Linda emerged from the encounter with a broken finger bone and bruises on the back of her neck. But she wouldn’t be silenced this time. She called the police, and her husband was arrested.

He died in custody, awaiting deportation back to Pakistan, just a week before our interview. She was his only family member in Malaysia, so she was forced to delay reporting for her new job to sort out all the procedures for his return to his home country.

“I am upset. Strong man like him, who beat me up, just died like that because of a heart attack. It is really annoying.

“He was supposed to go back to his home and find a work and rebuild his… It is unbelievable,” she says, with one fist clenched.

“It was only after the class that I learned what happens. But it will not happen again.

“It is up to you. I choose to not let it happen again, and I will move forward. This feels like freedom.” Linda is due to report to work two days after our interview. In the absence of a national childcare policy, she’s thankful that her boss at least allows her to bring her two boys to work.

Linda says courage is something we need more of, especially when it seems like every step forward is followed by two steps back.

Walking back to the large Christmas tree, she says she wants to buy herself a diamond one day, to symbolise her marriage to herself.

In one of the assignments in the creative writing workshop, Linda wrote a letter to her future self, five years from now. In it, she said, “I have big dreams. I wish to have a small business on my own. I wish I could have a car, afford to go on holiday together with my children.

“It is very difficult but I will work hard on it.”

‘Name it, or a pain is nameless’: The stories of domestic violence survivors

If someone you know experiences abuse, reach out. Call the WAO Hotline at 03-7956 3488 or text ‘TINA’ at 018-988 8058.

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

Man on mission to get more brethren into gender causes

During his student days, Yu Ren Chung was interested in working on environmental issues and took up electrical engineering in university so he could focus on renewable energy and clean technology.

Yu has changed course since then and is now working for Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), where he is the advocacy manager.

He credits prominent Malaysian women activists, especially Sisters In Islam (SIS) founder Zainah Anwar (below, right), for sparking his interest in gender equality.

As an undergraduate in Northwestern University, United States, Yu said he was first introduced to the world human rights activism when he attended a talk by Zainah in the US.

“By chance, she was travelling in the US when I was studying there and I attended an event organised by Malaysian students.

“She talked about her work in SIS and women’s rights in Malaysia, and I was really inspired by that, so I started researching a bit more and read about people like (Tenaganita co-founder) Irene Fernandez and the work she had been doing with migrant women,” he said in an interview with Malaysiakini at the WAO office in Petaling Jaya.

At around the same time, Yu was beginning to get disillusioned with approaching environmental issues through technology as he realised it was more of a political problem.

Instead of turning his back entirely, he delved into politics and public policies instead, taking up a minor in environmental policy and volunteering with political campaigns in the US as a student.

“I felt like the real challenge that needed to be solved was mainly political problems.

“Science and technology was way ahead and politics was way behind, so I focused my energy on (changing) that, so that exposed me to a number of issues like civil rights issues beyond environmental justice,” he said.

WAO a learning experience

When he returned to Malaysia, he was looking for a job in human rights advocacy and WAO seemed like the right fit for him, he said.

He has now worked for WAO for close to four years now, and it has been a “learning experience” for him.

While WAO provides services, crisis shelter, counselling and case management for domestic violence survivors, Yu focuses on advocacy work to change public policies and public attitudes.

He cited the Domestic Violence Act, where they have been pushing for reforms for three years, working closely with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the women’s parliamentary caucus, the police as well as through joint advocacy with fellow women’s groups in Malaysia.

“The policy division within the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is very proactive and forward-looking and we have a very good collaborative relationship with them,” he said.

WAO also works to improve enforcement of public policies, he said, recalling an instance when a hospital improved their one-stop crisis centre services after intervention from the women’s rights group.

They also advocate to change public attitudes about women’s rights, especially domestic violence against women, he said.

“That’s less about what the government is doing and more about what are people doing by themselves.

“Is violence against women something that people tolerate, like if you suspect domestic violence is happening in your neighbour’s house, are you going to stand by or stand up?” he said, giving an example.

Men have role

Though he has seen a positive impact from their work, there is still “a lot of room that needs to be filled”, he said.

Men, he said, have roles to play in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality as well.

There are two impetuses for men to be more proactive in the movement, he said, with the first being the effectiveness impetus, where there are certain situations where a man can be more effective in advocating for women’s rights.

Research has shown that a lot of men are more receptive to listening to other men when it comes to matters of women’s rights, he said.

Spaces that need to change the most are also usually the very spaces where men are most dominant, he added.

“Imagine if you are in a boardroom or any sort of high-level leadership where men are more representative because of other gender inequalities… those are spaces that more men have access to so there is a need (for men) to speak up in those areas,” he explained.

Aside from that, men also have a moral impetus to get involved in advocating for gender equality as most often, men are perpetrators of gender-based violence, he said.

Men top of chain

Even for men who are not directly oppressing women, Yu said all men benefit from the patriarchal system and male privilege regardless.

“In terms of fairness, there is a moral responsibility on men to actually do something about (gender inequality),” he said.

Men do not necessarily need to have special roles to play in the movement, he said, but they do have a responsibility.

There are several ways for men to be good allies in the fight for gender equality, he said, such as simply not perpetrating or perpetuating gender inequality and harassment.

More men should learn to question themselves on how they interact with their female colleagues, friends and family, he said.

They should also take it upon themselves to speak out when someone has said something that might be sexist, especially in a space with other men.

“Having more men that can be role models to champion this issue is something that can be important.

“It normalises the idea that men can take responsibility and be part of the solution,” he said.

WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488

Or SMS/Whatsapp TINA at 018 988 8058 if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse.

Hope for domestic violence survivors

Hope for domestic violence survivors

Hope for domestic violence survivors

Tan Heng-Lee | 13 March 2017

When her husband hit her, Alice knew she had to leave.

She called 999, and they gave her Women’s Aid Organisation’s (WAO) hotline number. With WAO’s assistance, she lodged a police report and obtained an interim protection order. The police supported her throughout the process, even arranging her transportation to meet with the deputy public prosecutor. The court subsequently found her husband guilty of domestic violence.

Alice obtained justice because various stakeholders worked together in responding to her case.

Her story is one of 21 stories featured in WAO’s newly-launched case study report – ‘Perspectives on Domestic Violence: A Coordinated Community Response to a Community Issue’. In the report, domestic violence survivors share their experiences leaving violence, accessing protection, and seeking justice. Their stories show how a coordinated community response can change the lives of women facing domestic violence.

“This response must come not only from NGOs and the police, the welfare department and other government stakeholders, but from every community member. At the centre of this coordinated community response must always be the survivor,” explained Natasha Dandavati, WAO’s advocacy officer and author of the report.

The report also highlights WAO statistics and recommendations for policy makers to strengthen the response to domestic violence. The case study report can be downloaded at wao.org.my.

Together with the report, WAO also launched ‘Harapan Sentiasa Ada’, an art exhibit at Masjid Jamek LRT station, on display from March to mid-May 2017. The art exhibit features artwork by domestic violence survivors, their quotes, and illustrations of TINA. TINA or ‘Think I Need Aid’, is the WAO SMS/WhatsApp help service – conceptualised as a person survivors can talk to.

The art exhibit is sponsored by Selangor Properties Berhad and supported by Think City, as part of the Arts On The Move programme – a joint initiative by Think City and Prasarana Malaysia Berhad.

“Our art exhibit amplifies the voices of domestic violence survivors, many of them now empowered advocates in their own right. Their art offers hope to other survivors, and encourages them to seek protection and justice,” said Tan Heang-Lee, WAO’s communications officer.

“Art and stories make the impersonal personal. By highlighting the stories of domestic violence survivors, we also hope that the public will recognise our collective responsibility to reach out and support survivors. Domestic violence is a community issue – and it takes all of us to end domestic violence,” added Tan.

The launch was held in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

Through these projects, WAO hopes to amplify the voices of domestic violence survivors, enhance their access to protection, and ensure a coordinated community response to domestic violence. Together, we can bring hope and change the lives of domestic violence survivors.

If you or someone you know experiences abuse

Call the WAO Hotline at 03 7956 3488. Or SMS/WhatsApp TINA at 018 988 8058.

TAN HEANG-LEE is communications officer, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

Common causes of domestic violence

Common causes of domestic violence

Common causes of domestic violence

Praise Maukazuva, 23 February 2017

There are many abusive relationships, and the only question to ask is: why?

The main answer is ‘control’.

The controlling characteristic that males attribute to their masculinity is the cause to these abusive relationships. When males don’t have control they feel their masculinity is threatened and they need to do something about it.

Here are some of the causes that can lead to domestic violence and abusive relationship.

1. Disagreement between a married couple.

The husband might be too controlling and might be making decisions of the family that only suit himself. Financial problems are the main causes of disagreements between a married couple.

2. Jealousy.

Some men are very jealous and envious that they end up making up suspicions and wrongly accusing their wives for infidelity. They probably do not want to see them talking to any man, even a family member except them.

3. Some men have grown up witnessing Domestic Violence between their parents.

This can affect them in two ways. Either psychologically resulting in a mental disorder and anger issues or they start to think it’s the only way they can solve their problems.

4. Alcohol and Drug abuse.

The influence of alcohol can enable violence because there will be no control of what you are doing and your behaviour changes. 61% of domestics violence has alcohol involved. Some men use alcohol as an excuse for abusing their wives.

5. Some societies do not have strong laws to support women against abuse.

The issue is often tolerated and seen as a normal thing and is justified. Low level of education contributes also as beating wives is still seen as a way of having control over your family. Which is wrong.

Domestic Violence should never be justified or excused. However it can be prevented. The key to prevention on the other hand is keeping it from happening in the first place.

So below are some key steps you can follow:

1. Be alert and take note of his behaviour changes.

Signs that show your partner can resort to Domestic Violence. These include mood swings that are unpredictable, Jealousy as mentioned earlier on, a controlling behaviour or explosive behaviour and lastly when he is making threats such as, I will kill you or beat you up. You can pick up these signs even before marriage. I have seen it even amongst teenage relationships. They are often short tempered, lack of respect and even alcohol abuse. You should not feel like you need to stay in a abusive relationship. You need to cut ties as soon as possible.

2. Try to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner.

If you have any concerns or problems, you need to help yourselves through counselling or to ask help from friends or family members. Not dealing with these issues will only make it difficult down the road. You need to be able to address your issues together and in a civilized manner. But this is only when there is a disagreement not after he has abused you.

3. You need to be aware of Association that are specifically for women in your community.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) opened Malaysia’s first refuge to abused women in 1982. They provide shelter, counseling and social work for victims of Domestic Violence. Most of these Organizations educate both women and young girls on abuse, its impacts and how to be safe.

Training for volunteers // image via WAO Official Website


WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488

WhatsApp/SMS TINA: 018 988 8058

WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488

WhatsApp/SMS TINA: 018 988 8058

1 in 4 women experience Domestic Violence during her lifetime and more than half of these women have children that watch them helplessly as they are abused.

Don’t suffer in silence

Don’t suffer in silence

Don't suffer in silence

Praise Maukazuva, 21 February 2017

1 in 4 women experience Domestic Violence during her lifetime and more than half of these women have children that watch them helplessly as they are abused.

Repercussions of Domestic Violence vary from woman to woman depending on the type abuse they would have experienced. It can be from their partners, members of the family or total strangers.

The different types of abuse are:

Physical This includes Slapping, hitting, kicking, choking, restraining or any other torture that involves human contact.
Emotional In this type of abuse comes intimidation, degradation, being yelled at or being given a silent treatment. This will also lower their self esteem.
Sexual Sexual activity without her consent and without any contraceptives.
Verbal When you are being called names, being accused of doing things that you haven’t done, when for example your spouse lies to you.
Social Yes! This is actually a form of abuse, that includes a lot of things like a controlling husband, being ill treated in the public or stalking you wherever and whatever you do.
Financial Financial abuse varies from not being able to support the family making them starve, Or it’s the woman who is working but her money is being used by her husband for things that do not benefit the family.
Human Trafficking Although this stands as another different and serious issue, it still remains a type of abuse, as women are forced work in terrible conditions as prostitutes, servants or in farming areas. They are often beaten up, drugged and starved. If she refuses, her children will be at risk.

According to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital Emergency and Trauma Department, 4000 cases have been reported from January 2016 to January 2017 in Malaysia. With the highest of 498 in Selangor and most cases reported from Malays compared to Indians and Chinese.

Apparently reports have increased rapidly compared to other years. This is because more people have become aware of Domestic Violence as a crime, and are now reporting.

Examples of Malaysians who suffered recent domestic violence are Ana and Shona Roy.

Ana experienced domestic violence for 13 years. Her husband forced her to stop working and he treated her like a slave. She faced physical abuse and the only thing that made her endure all this was for her two sons. Read more

Shona Roy was married to a Saudi-Arabian man, and endure domestic violence for 8 years. The husband was cheating, violent to the extent that he chased her around with a knife, refused her custody of her children and then tried to kidnap them from the hands of their mother.

Shona Sinha Roy // image via says.com

Imagine the pain that these two women have endured. Would you want to suffer the same fate? Take not, it can happen to anyone. That brings us to the next issue, how can we stop Domestic Violence. In Order for us to prevent this trivial issue we need to be aware of the causes.

Remember, the abused is not the cause of the problem. It is the abuser who is in total control and who takes full responsibility for us.

Abusive relationships, early marriages and violence make women susceptible in marriage. They will not have the courage to say no to an abusive husband. In cases where there are financial problems and employment is scarce, they are scared they will not be able to take care of their children so they’d rather be abused and have their children safe.

Those that stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of their children are making the biggest mistakes of their lives, and also their children’s lives because they are greater chances that your children will also resort to Domestic Violence thinking it’s a normal way of living.

But is it fair for women to be caught in such a dilemma, and in this day in age? No matter how many times women beg for help, society turns a blind eye to them, families put pressure on them, and people around trampled on them, make them realized that they don’t have a voice in this world. But after all, they’re still living and fighting for themselves until now. Their perseverance is admirable though they were treated badly. Without women, can the world be advanced like this? And why must these unfortunate people suffer severe consequences and unjust though they have devoted a lot for humanity?

In conclusion, violence against women is a difficult problem to solve. This is not always under control to be able to fix at all. But people will always have the most reasonable resolutions. I hope that this issue will soon be resolved smoothly so that all of the women will no longer have to suffer from those pains.


WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488

WhatsApp/SMS TINA: 018 988 8058

WAO Hotline: 03 7956 3488

WhatsApp/SMS TINA: 018 988 8058

Understand the common causes that lead to domestic violence and ways to prevent it.