Movement control order: Treat domestic violence support as essential service

Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

The Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC) calls upon the government to recognise support for victims of domestic violence as an essential service during the movement control order period.

As a result of the movement control order, stress levels across Malaysia have skyrocketed. Families, cooped up together at home for weeks, are on edge. Economic hardship is rampant. Women are especially vulnerable to domestic violence during this tense period.

Under the movement control order, the risk of domestic violence increases greatly, not just in terms of the number of abusive incidents but also in their severity.

The WCC’s telephone counselling data over the first four weeks of the movement control order show a clear increase in the number of domestic violence cases handled compared to previous months. In January 2020 we handled 27 cases, in February 16 cases, and for the first four weeks of the movement control order, from 18 March to 14 April, we had 33 cases.

Over the four days until, WCC also received four urgent calls pertaining to domestic violence, three of which involving the need for emergency shelter. Our social workers have been working round the clock to support the victims and their children.

Asking women to be patient and forgive their abusers in the context of domestic violence, as the Deputy Minister for Women, Family and Community Development has recently done, is misguided at best and fatal at worst.

There is a difference between marital conflict and domestic violence.

When common disagreements happen, the couple may argue, but they learn to resolve their differences without resorting to violence. Here, patience and forgiveness are a part of such marital conflict resolution.

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Domestic abuse, on the other hand, is about wielding power over another, often over a prolonged period. Such abuse is toxic and inexcusable. Stopping such violence is of utmost importance to the safety of victims and their children. When domestic violence occurs, it is time to act, not negotiate patiently.

Interventions can make the difference between life and death. Time is of the essence. Every hour of delay affects the safety and wellbeing of thousands of vulnerable women and children throughout the country.

Echoing calls by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and other women’s organisations, the WCC urges the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to act immediately to streamline urgent domestic violence response measures during the movement control, with priority given to emergency shelters, access to transportation for victims, and clearance for travel outside the restricted 10km radius and curfew hours in order to access support.

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