Back in 1984, a group of concerned women living in Kuching came together as they saw a need for an organisation which promoted women’s equality, empowerment and the elimination of violence against women and children. They called the NGO Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) to emphasize the equality and sisterhood between members and any woman needing assistance. The following year SWWS was registered.
The pioneers initially focused their energies on establishing a crisis phone line and increasing awareness on domestic violence and rape through conducting seminars. At the same time, SWWS advocated with other women groups – most notably the Joint Action Group (JAG) Against Violence Against Women – for a Domestic Violence Act and the development of services for survivors. These included shelters for women and children fleeing violence and a one-stop empathetic service for women who had survived rape.
THE NEXT DECADE
By the mid 1990s SWWS was renting its own drop-in centre in Rock Road and, although finances remained precarious, was able to employ one staff member. The Domestic Violence Act (1994) was implemented in 1996. The responsibility of providing a shelter was given to the Sarawak Department of Welfare and the idea of a one-stop crisis centre (OSCC) for all affected by violence, including rape, was established by the Ministry of Health. SWWS was an active partner in the initial planning and training and provided volunteer para-counsellors when Sarawak General Hospital’s OSCC launched its service in 1997.
It was time for SWWS to extend its work. Attention was given to child sexual abuse with the compilation of a Keep Safe Programme launched at a Sarawak Teachers Union event by our own drama group; more legal literacy seminars where delivered in rural areas and, through collaboration with the Sarawak Department of Health and other NGOs, SWWS hosted a major conference on HIV and AIDs. In addition SWWS helped establish the new NGO Sarawak AIDS Concern Society to address this issue. Our core work on domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment continued and, when funds allowed, SWWS took courses on these topics to other parts of Sarawak.
SUSTAINING & GROWING
Maintaining services, extending our outreach, meeting new needs, increasing membership and finding funds were the challenges for the next stage of our journey. Although more organizations were aware of issues of abuse challenges remained great and new forms of abuse were emerging. Examples of new issues were trafficking and cybercrime, including on-line bullying, grooming children and romance scams. More familiar forms of abuse remained too – the one hitting the headlines the most being the historic allegations of sexual abuse of Penan.
To be able to have a wider impact SWWS strategy was to:-
strengthen networks and encourage a collaborative approach across government departments and NGOs whilst maintaining our independent voice, and raise issues through direct training – including training of trainers – and reaching a wider public through press statements. During this third decade, amongst other programmes, we conducted the Empowering Rural Girls project in the Baram area; initiated a roundtable on trafficking; trained teachers and PTA members on child sexual abuse and school counsellors on cyber grooming. We met our aim of sustaining our services and expanding into new areas but the challenges described remain.
SWWS continues to provide support to women in distress, through its phone line and drop-in centre, and advocates to change situations which have a negative impact on the lives of women and girls (See: Women Calling for Change) . Tackling discrimination and violence remains a core concern of the organization. Through our networks with the renamed Joint Action Group (JAG) for Gender Equality; our own advocacy and collaboration with a range of government departments and civil society organizations, SWWS speaks up for women’s rights and helps empower women.
Progress has been made but there is still more work to done for SWWS to be able to offer a consistent, dynamic and effective service to women. We need more active members and funds to employ more staff as similar NGOs in Semenanjung are able to do.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (2016 – 2018)
The Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) elects its executive committee biannually and aims to have a mix of old and new members in the team to provide continuity and change. In addition sub-committees are formed around specific issues and services as the need arises. As of 20th March 2016 the executive committee members are:-
|Vice President:||Angie Garet|
|Acting Secretary:||Alexandra Nastassia John|
|Assistant Treasurer:||Ling Hui Yen|
|Committee Members:||Ita Ling, Gill Raja, Chua Kuan Ching, Ann Teo|
OBJECTIVES & OPERATING PRINCIPLES