By Jeswan Kaur
KUALA LUMPUR, -- While the nations all over the world celebrate Children's Day every November, the children's fate seems to be a cause of concern of late especially in Malaysia.
Two months ago, the nation was shocked with the death of eight-year-old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin. The girl was sexually ravaged and her naked body was found stuffed inside a sports bag left near a stairway of a shop house.
While the public outrage was just abating, the nation was again shocked by the news of the brutal rape and murder of nine-year old Preeshena Varshiny last Wednesday. Preeshena's body was dumped from the balcony of a condominium.
Nurin and Preeshena are among the many victims of child predators who are still free. Now safety of children has become a challenge with the authorities.
While the communities call for public spaces to be made safe for children, the non-governmental organisations have taken it upon themselves to educate the people on the issues of violence and safety. One of them is the women's group, All Women's Action Society (AWAM).
AWAM organised the Citizens Against Rape (CAR) campaign to raise awareness on the issue of safety. Although the task of creating safe spaces particularly for children remains as challenging as ever, AWAM has tirelessly been advocating for a violent free environment and safe spaces for the young.
COUNT CHILDREN IN
AWAM executive director Honey Tan Lay Ean said they have been going to schools, colleges and universities to talk about issues of violence and safety.
"We link these issues with human rights i.e. how violence violates our rights and the right to live, liberty and security of a person. This includes living with dignity and free from violence," she told Bernama.
One reflection of its commitment was its June 30, 2007 project called "Walk and Wheel: Uniting for Safe Spaces". The tagline was "Count Me In".
"Part of the project was for young people to take part in a school contest indicating how they would deal with various kinds of violence i.e. robbery, rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
"On October 6, AWAM held another project called "Unity for Safe Spaces: Children Count". The objective was to enable the public, especially the children to express their feelings on recent events of violence and abduction affecting children with Nurin being the latest in the long list of cases," said Tan.
She added that AWAM believes it takes teamwork to make public spaces safe, be it the homes or outside.
"We are focusing on what we, the police and the local councils can do to play our parts effectively. Public programmes are important because they help bring out specific issues, thus starting a process of change.
"While public programmes can be limited because it reaches out only to a limited number, they must be carried out often and in different localities. Here, funding becomes a key matter to bear in mind," Tan said.
DEAL WITH THE CORE ISSUE
Tan said violence, especially violence against women and girls would see a decrease if everyone started dealing with the more endemic issues of discrimination against women and gender inequality.
"These relate to gender-based-violence because when women are discriminated against, they are valued less and this lower status perpetuates violence against them, and often with impunity."
She pointed out that one of the more effective ways of dealing with issues of gender-based-violence is to change people's values and mindsets.
"This means accepting that girls and boys and women and men are to be valued equally and violence is not the way to deal with issues which arise in our everyday lives.
"There must be a concerted effort to reach out to boys and men so that they become more aware of how gender discrimination and inequality have impacted them too, although in a different manner."
She said boys and men also face the stereotyping that they have to be macho and aggressive and that violence is a good way to solve problems. This disables them from showing their caring, nurturing and compassionate side for fear of being labelled as "sissy" or "soft".
MORE CAMPAIGNS TO RAISE AWARENESS
Tan said on November 24, AWAM would organise a workshop for young women and men on issues of gender-based-violence in Kuala Lumpur.
"This will be in relation to the White Ribbon Campaign on November 25. And November 25 also marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women, culminating in the Human Rights Day on December 10."
She said AWAM also has on-going programmes in Kuantan, Batu Pahat, Johor Baharu and Melaka.
"We will conduct more workshops but the highlight will be the 'Girl Power Camp' which will be held for girls in the 13 to 17 age group. AWAM aims to empower them by raising their gender awareness and teaching them some basic self-defence skills," Tan said.