ICYMI: Hannah Yeoh on domestic violence issues in Malaysia and more
BURO. HANGOUTS LIVE
Throughout April and May, we'll be curating a series of IG Live sessions on @buromalaysia with tastemakers, influencers and rightful experts in various industries.
Our purpose: To make staying at home, isolation and social distancing just a bit easier, as well as connecting all Malaysians riding out the current C/MCO. We'll share meaningful—and important—conversations and entertain with creative challenges.
Missed the episode with YB Hannah Yeoh, MP Segambut? Fret not cos you can watch it now on our IGTV. We've also transcribed some of the key questions she answered below.
There was a news article in late April that cited Selangor Women’s Empowerment Institute (IWB) saying “women in Selangor are the new face of poverty due to MCO”. This, after polling 442 women where 84% of them are in the B40 or low-income household category. Many of them faced a loss of income and/or business.
What are your thoughts on women being the ones that are most affected by the MCO/pandemic?
“I think everyone is affected—not just women, but the men too, especially those who are running their own businesses. What we know is that there are only about 54 per cent of women in the workforce and the majority of them—especially the B40 category—runs their own businesses. They sell food items like nasi lemak and kuih from their roadside stalls; and so, when you have that kind of percentage of women doing such businesses that are very dependent on daily wages, you are bound to have a lot of them being affected by having no income due to the MCO.”
Is there any form of help available for these women who are affected?
"The government has announced the Bantuan Prihatin COVID-19, so some of them will receive cash but that is only one-off. Since the MCO happened in March, these women who are dependent on daily wages are already almost in their third month—and now leading up to Raya—of having no income. There have been some Members of the Parliament (MP) who have tried to reach out in a creative way. For example, the MP of Seremban, Anthony Loke (the former Transport Minister) has bought cookies or baked goods from single mothers or women who bake at home and he has even told residents who want to donate, can pay for the product and the cookies will be sent to the frontliners.
"That way, three categories of people will receive from such a meaningful project. The single mothers have some income at least. The people who have the capacity to give and buy (but didn't know how) can feel empowered because they can help these women directly and they trust their sources through the MP. And the third group would be the frontliners who can feel appreciated. So something like that will be meaningful if we can implement it across the country but coordinating is not easy.
"Lots of people are trying to find creative ways to help but there is still a lot of uncertainty as to childcare and so long as that is not sorted, people who want to return to work will not be able to do so wholeheartedly. Because: Who is going to look after their kids?
"We hope that the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Security Council (MKN) can sort this soon so that women who are greatly affected by this can have some kind of certainty to plan their days. But if there’s one group who can do more—if they’re not affected financially—it would be the employers. This is the time to venture into different kinds of work system be it work from home or flexible working hours to help people save on expenses and/or be a solution for childcare for the moment."
Financial challenges aside, there have been reports of more calls made to domestic violence hotlines. The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) tweeted that they have seen a 148% increase in calls and enquiries since the MCO started. To give a clearer picture of this, 896 enquiries made in April versus 266 in January.
To your knowledge, can you elaborate what/why the increase?
“First of all, there are three kinds of sources for the data that we’re looking at: the NGOs, the police (reports) and the Women’s Ministry.
"You won’t see an increase in police reports during MCO. To compare—I got this data from the police—for the same period of time, 2020’s number of reports is slightly lower than 2019's. This is simply because a lot of people can’t travel and the perpetrator (most likely a family member) is at home with them during MCO. Hence, people are fearful about reporting to the police and as a result, you won’t see an increase in the number of police reports.
"Now, the Women’s Ministry runs Talian Kasih (15999) and they also have WhatsApp. They have clarified that they saw an increase in calls but they’re not related to domestic abuse. Instead, a lot of people were calling about welfare aid. Those calls were captured as an increase but they have issued a statement saying it’s not related to domestic abuse.
"Once CMCO is done with, when you have freedom of movement, very likely, with the right kind of awareness campaign and support, you are likely to see more people coming out to share or lodge police reports about domestic abuse at home. WAO have shared that they have seen this kind of increase in calls in other countries."
Yes, that's true but, despite that, how do you make sense of government reports saying there is no increase but NGOs claim there is/will be more domestic violence cases?
"It’s very simple. Usually, the abuser is a family member or spouse—and not forgetting, domestic violence can happen to men as well. Husbands can be a victim at home too. So these victims often want to get help but they struggle because they don't want to see their spouse get arrested or go to jail. Many people thus turn to a safer alternative which is to get counselling or go to an NGO first. That's why people tend to respond better when organisations like WAO reach out—they feel less threatened and have the overall perception that NGOs can be trusted better than an official organisation. It’s really not easy to deal with domestic violence from a family member. I think the stats could be a lot higher but there aren't enough reports because people don’t really want to report a family member."
There are several NGOs that operate hotlines where people can call for help. Talian Kasih is under The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. In your experience, what happens after a victim makes that phone call? To what extent is help given?
“It depends on the severity of the abuse. If no physical harm has been done yet but there's a lot of violent arguments or threats, people can call up Talian Kasih (15999) to get counselling—you can even WhatsApp them. WAO also gives counselling either via a phone call or online. People can also call them to get information to find out what their next step should be.
"Most of the time, the victims would want to sort out childcare first. They first question if lodging a report would end up in a divorce and if so, who gets custody of the kids. These hotlines are very useful to get such information.
"If there's physical abuse and you call Talian Kasih, they'll ask for your location and immediately dispatch police to go have a look. The Welfare Department will then access the situation and get an emergency protection order where they will take the victim and place her/him in a shelter.
"Those are the kinds of intervention that can happen. Be it WAO or Talian Kasih, there are government agencies that do give counselling for free. You can also Google LPPKN where we've previously set up a family directory listing different NGOs and what they do or offer, specific to your needs."
Sometimes, neighbours hear of victims being abused in their homes. How can they help and what can they do?
"If you’re not sure what to do, go to WAO's Facebook—they have a lot of useful infographics on how you can help. One of them is as simple as ringing the doorbell and asking them for chilli sauce (or something like that) just to intervene and break that tensed situation. That way, the perpetrator also knows that someone is listening.
"If you’re a domestic violence victim, one of the practical things to do is to make sure that all the dangerous things at home are kept away. At the same time, notify a trusted friend or neighbour so they know that in the event they hear something, they can reach out to help you."
In late March, the hashtag #WanitaBukanDoraemon was trending. Now, what would be better marital advice for married couples trying to stay sane together while staying in more often than before?
"As a government agency, we usually shouldn't intervene with people’s marriages. Instead, you have a responsibility to look after those who can’t look after themselves. For example, domestic violence victims. That should be the focus. Every marriage has different cultural and religious backgrounds. Everybody is different so when you’re trying to engage by giving marital advice like that, you’re going to be misunderstood and your target audience is so wide. That’s why I thought that was a wrong move on the part of the ministry to advise people what to do if your spouse is nagging.
"I feel that the ministry should be targeting policy issues such as domestic abuse, how can we standardise data, how can we reach out, or how to make help more accessible. These are things the ministry should be doing because also, what works for a wife may not work for another. Again, every person and marriage is different. Instead, if they're looking to give advice during a lockdown, they should look at suggesting healthy activities for the whole family."
From your experiece though, what would be good marital advice?
"Based on my own experience, I would say to be real and not over-romanticise marriage. A lot of people have a distorted idea of marriage and think that settling down equals a happily ever after, but those who are married will tell you that it comes with a financial and lifetime commitment. And raising children is not easy.
"As a result, my best advice is to get counselling. It can be in the form of speaking to a couple you trust or people who have been married longer than you. Get help. I'm proud to tell people that my husband and I have a couple of good friends we can turn to when we can't see eye-to-eye and need intervention.
"Counselling cannot be seen as a bad thing. It’s enriching. To hear a different opinion because when you're stuck in a situation, it's hard to see outside the box that we're in. Married couples should do counselling not just to enrich a marriage but to resolve conflicts. More often than not, those conflicts between a married couple tend to accumulate and once that explodes, it'll be too huge of a matter and you won't know where to begin the repair work. There shouldn't be a stigma in getting counselling."
COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. While the CMCO offers a little more freedom of movement and “back to normal”, it is clear that we are living in a “new normal”. What does that mean to you?
"Well, I moved from being a Deputy Minister to now being a part of the opposition as MP of Segambut. The "new normal" to me is exploring ways to reach out to my voters without using the old methods. You can't have a dialogue, walkabouts, press conferences—they're all prohibited now. We're still looking for new and creative ways to engage with our constituents. For example, I'm venturing into storytelling to reach out to younger families. It's something I haven't done before and these young families would never have seen me in a town hall either because they were busy looking after their kids.
"So this is my "new norm"—doing interviews online, tending to my kids and more. That being said, this MCO has been quite interesting. I have more time now. I've been in politics for 12 years and until this MCO, I rarely got to nap. Now that I'm home more often, I get to do that and that, to me, is such a luxury. I'm also learning how to cook and bake, and even do some online shopping—I never had time for that. It's so liberating to search for baking trays or almond flour online without needing to go to the shops."
Finally, we are all in uncertain times, globally. What is a message of hope you would like to share with everyone watching this?
"Financial stress is very real. People who are in businesses will need to pay salaries and they know that it’s not just about managing the company, but being mindful that these are staff and their families who you need to feed. So for those who going through this difficult situation—especially financially—I want to say that this season will pass.
"If you are finding difficulty in waking up in the morning to face and complete another day, please speak to a professional counsellor. I want you to know that you are not alone. Many, many people are going through this same scenario. We're all praying that this COVID-19 will be defeated very quickly so businesses can resume, tourism can happen again and people can start generating income. That is my hope for Malaysia.
"Interestingly, today is the second anniversary of 9th of May. People are tagging us in old photos of that day. For me, it's very simple when life doesn't go the way you want it. Two years ago, I campaigned, wanting to form and give Malaysia a better government and better policies. But things did not turn out the way I wanted it to. It ended prematurely after 20 months and now I find myself as an opposition. But I must not let that stop me from doing the good I want to do for the people of Malaysia. Yes, it's important to get back on track to Putrajaya and to be back in office but I must not let this thing limit me. I don't need the position of Deputy Minister to serve children. As an opposition, I can still find a platform to reach out and spread awareness. Never allow a position or an office to limit you from doing the good you want to do.
"The most important thing is to be yourself and find your strengths. I have to do what I’m comfortable in doing and if I'm good with words then I want to put that to good use. Focus on your strengths. I really believe that everyone has special gifts from God. God has made everyone unique. You have your own set of strengths so discover that, use that and be yourself. You will shine when you’re yourself."
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