Expanding Our Work into Malaysia

Helen Rubenstein

A request by the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia opened a new door for The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights program. The embassy approached us about traveling to Malaysia to speak on violence against women. Our work with embassies in Latvia, Lithuania, and Serbia has gotten a lot of attention, and our experience prompted the embassy’s invitation. As a result, during The Advocates’ first venture in Southeast Asia, I spent a week speaking with groups ranging from women parliamentarians to police to NGOs to law school faculty to radio hosts.

My work was divided between Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and the large city of Penang. In both places I met with members of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, a consortium of seven women’s human rights groups. I met some wonderful, dedicated people and the contacts are valuable to our work.

One of these groups, the Women’s Aide Organization (WAO) in Kuala Lumpur, opened the first shelter for abused women and their children in 1982. In addition to providing services to victims, WAO educates the public and advocates for legal reform on domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and migrant domestic workers.

In Penang I met with the Women’s Centre for Change, which is also doing remarkable work assisting victims of gender-based violence and pushing for legal reform.

Perhaps my most rewarding meeting was with a group of women law school faculty at the University of Malaya. In earlier meetings with the NGOs they had expressed frustration about not having sufficient data to identify the scope of the problem of domestic violence and do effective advocacy. The law school faculty expressed a different frustration: they feel that they are doing research without a practical application. I suggested that they work with the NGOs to identify useful research projects to support the NGOs’ advocacy work. At the end of the meeting the organizer announced that she would schedule another meeting with the NGOs. It was great to feel that connections might be made and that there might be a concrete outcome to my work in Malaysia.

My colleagues and I look forward to returning to Malaysia to conduct in-depth training for police, prosecutors, and judges to advance the effective implementation of Malaysia’s domestic violence law.

By: Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program

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