Raising the impact of media on violence against women

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Kuala Langat Municipal Council collaborated in a day-long workshop for the women in Banting to raise awareness on violence against women. By helping them to recognize an issue, CIJ hopes to encourage the community to express their view and experience through community media.

 

By: Apsara Murale

 

banting4.jpgThe 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women is an international campaign started by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) in 1991. Running annually from November 25 (which is International Day Against Violence Against Women) to December 10 (International Human Rights Day), it aims to raise awareness that violence against women is a violation of human rights.
A day-long workshop in Malaysia to commemorate the campaign was jointly organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Kuala Langat Municipal Council at the Banting Community Hall on 7 December 2008.

 

The workshop was the first by the council to be conducted entirely in Tamil for Indian women of various backgrounds between the ages of 18 and 50 years. This was because, despite the varied and extensive efforts undertaken by mainstream women NGOs like the All-Women Action Society of Malaysia (AWAM), Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), Women's Centre for Change (WCC), etc. to raise awareness and promote women's rights, the knowledge is not trickling down to minority groups like Tamil-speaking women who are unable to converse and understand the national language.

 
This is a worrying trend because, as a consequence of not being aware of those rights, many of these women have inadvertently become stateless citizens and could not assert their rights when applying for legal and welfare aid.

 

The workshop addressed a core range of issues that plague the Tamil-speaking Indian community, especially in rural areas such as estate plantations, where a large part of the rural Indian population is primarily based.

The trainers for the workshop were Janartini Arumugam, local councillor of Majlis Daerah Kuala Langat; Chitrah Rajendran, social activist; Thanam Subramaniam, CIJ staff/trainer; Ramacantiran M. Anantham, from the Welfare Department; and Jessie Rajendran, social activist.
banting1.jpgFollowing an ice-breaking session in which participants introduced themselves so that they would be more at ease when sharing their experiences, CIJ's Thanam talked about the media as an important medium to voice their issues. She explained the need to set up
community radios and brought to their attention how Indian women in the media are often portrayed as.
The participants were surprised to learn how they had failed to realise that the media have been portraying women negatively in, among others, Tamil dramas and advertisements that give an unrealistic view of women. Thanam's session shed light on one of the factors why poor Indian women were unable to assert their rights. Their inability to differentiate reality from fiction, due to lack of knowledge and education, was clearly at work, making them complacent about their rights when they become victims of violence either at home or in public places.

The session on how to prevent sexual violence was the most eye-opening for the participants. According to social activist Jessie, sexual violence is commonly misconstrued. Indeed, many of the women at the workshop were unaware that to be forced to have sex with your husband is considered marital rape.

Cultural factors also played a huge part in this misconception. The Hindu belief in Karma and the low position of women was another significant factor as to why the women dared not assert their rights. At the end of this session, a participant came forward to report being abused by her husband, and it showed how effective the session was in raising awareness on this issue.


Social activist Chitrah's session on advocacy was the highlight of the workshop. She addressed the fundamental problem as to why many Indian women are unable to seek help from the authorities. Part of the problem was that they felt intimidated. Besides the inability to communicate fluently in the national language, Chitrah also pointed out that most of the Tamil-speaking community don't know how to broach the subject to the officer in charge and this is mainly due to lack of awareness.

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Ramacantiran from the Welfare Department later spoke about Taska Rumah, a programme by the Welfare Ministry to help single mothers from rural communities set up their own daycare business. It also provides daycare service for children of single mothers for free, giving the latter mobility to earn a living. He encouraged the participants to seek further information about the course as it is easy to apply and join.

Mahadevi Saruaisvaran, a student, had nothing but positive words to say about the workshop, saying she was now more confident of defending herself and speaking about issues affecting her community.


Another participant, Sinthamoney S., an NGO volunteer, was very happy to have attended the programme as she found it useful in teaching young Indian girls about their rights. She hoped that more programmes like this would be held.