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Peng Leong, volunteer at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, met Theresa Symons during the International Women’s Day March. She interviewed Theresa about her ministry. Here’s how Theresa responded:

I am working as the Executive Director of Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Welfare Centre) in Malaysia.

The primary focus of our work is with women and children experiencing crisis situations such as domestic violence, pregnancy crisis, abuse and other forms of crisis.  We also work with women who come from impoverished backgrounds especially those living in rural areas  with minimal access to basic services such as education, healthcare, water, sanitation and decent wages. I oversee 5 residential services and 6 preventive programs in different parts of Malaysia.

This is my first CSW and it was an awesome experience for me.  It was so good to with many women from different parts of the world, sharing the same joy, challenges and passion in advancing the status of women and girls; especially in the areas of human rights and basic necessities such as education, water and sanitation, health and decent wages. It was good to hear stories, to exchange best practices, to network with like minded women and to know that there is a wealth of information and resources available in different parts of the world.

I leave the CSW a different person from when I first came – equipped with more information, made some new friends and learned how to use human rights documents for advocacy and systemic change. I praise God for this opportunity and privilege to be here.

The picture shows Theresa (r) and Peng (l) at the International Women’s Day March.

Peng Leong wrote this article.

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and Co-Founder of the Blog Café Thawra

While reading the excellent book Purple Hibiscus from the outstanding Nigerian author and previous Princeton lecturer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I got to thinking about abusive relationships and how women get stuck in them, unable to break free from these iron shackles. In the novel, the heroine endures torture from her father, who tells her he’s doing this for her own good.

As the world is getting ready for the 54th Commission on the Status of Women to be held in New York in March, that will review and strengthen the commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, domestic violence and abuse against women are now more than ever getting attention from both national and international authorities.

In my whole 25 years of existence (Don’t laugh, I know it’s a small number, but it just goes on to proving my point, which is,(keep on reading)), I have witnessed women being abused verbally in public by their partner or by their father, I have heard testimonies of physical abuse given by young women, women under 30 years of age, already carrying the burden and repercussions of such emotional and physical turmoil so early on in their woman’s life. To many, the abused woman is the married woman suffering beatings from her alcoholic husband. This cliché, like all clichés, has a lining of truth, but let us not forget that abuse can be physical, but also emotional, that it can happen to any woman, and that it can also take place in a parent-child relationship. Besides, violence can also be perpetrated by women, but as the vast majority of violence against women cases recorded have been made by men, we will stick to the gender angle for the purpose of this article.

I have often wondered why women who find themselves in such a relationship do not simply leave their very own private hell.  While it seems very easy to have this rather judgmental kind of reaction, things are far from being so black and white, many shades of grey can appear: many women could be afraid not to be able to sustain their family financially without their partner’s support, some others claim they still love the person who abuse them, some will even tell you they were guilty of something and deserved this outburst of violence, and some will simply not realise they are being abused, because to them abuse is only physical, and they won’t have the appropriate tools to unveil the emotional mistreatments.

While it is possible that many women probably think along these lines, I’m also convinced that something in their partner’s attitude keeps them emotionally attached to them, triggers something in their mind and heart for them to stay or makes them feeling so guilty and worthless that they become grateful to their partner for “putting up with them”.

Studies have shown that the abusive partner is generally somebody who exerts some kind of power upon their victim, whether financially or emotionally, which puts the abused woman, right from the beginning, in a dependent situation. Right at the start of the relationship, there is a will to dominate the other spouse or partner. The process will slowly creep on the relationship: it’ll be a hurtful comment, or a slap. These incidents will be followed by justifications such as “But I’m only saying this because I love you”, or “You provoked me, I went out of my mind, I’m sorry, It will never happen again”.


It will happen again.

Emotional manipulation is a big component of the abusive partner’s attitude, along with making the victim feel guilty, put the blame on her. In the eyes of her aggressor, an abused woman has all the flaws in the world, and she should be grateful that he’s staying with her. Insults, degrading comments and intimidating measures will happen often, leading the woman to feel worthless, guilty, and to continuously ask herself if what her aggressor is saying is true: Is she really such a bad person? And if so, why is he still staying with her? Surely, he must be an outstanding person?

And there you go. This is how a woman can endure so many unspeakable treatments and this is how this vicious circle starts.

However, it doesn’t stop there. In order to ensure a firm grip on his prey, and make sure that his partner will never leave him, the abusive man will know how to cajole and seduce his spouse/partner. While continuous violence will eventually lead to a defensive reaction from the victim, an alternation between evil and angel will have her confused: “He can be so adorable; I must be really awful to him sometimes to push him to this extent”. The violent partner will be charming in society and with other people, only throwing from time to time the degrading comment (with a smile and condescending laugh) to the woman accompanying him. These strategies are equivalent to brainwashing, and with such an oppressing burden, no wonder mistreated women have trouble leaving their homes.

This is why it is tremendously important to teach women, not only about their rights, but also about how to identify the first signs of an abusive relationship, when it is not too late to intervene or for the woman to seek help.

Just think about what difference it would make if women would walk into relationships aware of these twisted strategies and manipulations.

Maybe women would have more confidence in themselves.

Maybe a woman wouldn’t die each week in Europe following violence from her partner.

While we reflect this year on Beijing+15 and on the status of women, let us not forget that education is not only knowing about national laws protecting women or CEDAW. It is also giving women tools that they can use before they actually need to resort to these laws.

It’s called prevention, and it works.

Ladies, you’re aware now.

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co founder of the blog Café Thawra

Hello, my name is Paola, and I’m a shoe addict.

This being said, I know how vain and somehow laughable such a statement might sound to the sane citizen, but the clue’s in the name, and when you hear “addict” you don’t particularly think “reasonable”, “reflective”, “composed” or “together”. You think “mental”, and, well, you would probably be right.

I suppose this trait of mine has quickly been spotted by my supervisors at the World YWCA, as one of the first examples they gave me to illustrate our associations’ awareness raising campaigns against violence against women was the YWCA of Scotland’s shoe exhibition.

When I learned about it, something popped in my head and I thought, “This is IT. This job and I were MEANT TO BE”.

So my bright pink clad, elevated, feet couldn’t run fast enough to go and learn about this event that now regularly takes place in various YWCAs around the world.

In 2002, the YWCA of Scotland, shocked by the appalling number of women who die each year at the hands of their partners, decided to write to around 180 famous and not so famous Scottish women, asking them if they would be willing to donate their shoes for an anti-violence against women shoe exhibition. The women could take their shoes back after the exhibition, or donate them to the YWCA to be auctioned in order to fundraise and support the work undertaken with victims of domestic violence. 104 pairs of shoes were thus collected and exhibited with the picture of the woman whom it belonged to, with a message from her, and the event took place during the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women.

104 pairs, for the 104 women that die following domestic violence each year in the United Kingdom.

Fair enough, I hear you say, but why shoes?

The shoes were standing alone in the otherwise bare exhibition hall, forming a silent path that looked as if composed of the dead women’s footsteps. As visitors walked around the exhibition, they could read the messages of all the women that had donated their shoes, women such as J.K Rowling, who donated the pair of Jimmy Choo’s she wore at the premiere of the first Harry Potter movie. The empty shoes were like the unfinished lives of the battered women, women who could, just like their sisters who gave the shoes, have been successful authors, respected lawyers, loved mothers, or whatever they would have liked to be.

If only their executioner had let them.

The experience proved to be so moving and cutting edge that it has been replicated in various YWCAs and at various events, including for example the YWCA Week Without Violence. The YWCA of Australia launched for example the Seventy7 pairs of Shoes exhibition, and the some branches of the YWCA of the USA have also followed suit.

Some might think that using shoes might be a bit frivolous, that, even if it got the organisation’s message across, shoes are not “serious”. To these people, I would answer two things. Firstly, a pair of shoes tells you a lot about a woman, about her lifestyle, her likes, her personality. It is the most essential accessory in a woman’s life, and thus is a very powerful tool to use to raise awareness about VAW.

Secondly, I’ll simply borrow French Author Jean Cocteau’s quote, who said: “Frivolity is the dignity of Despair”.

Please ladies, remember to never let anybody take you out of your shoes. And if they try, walk away.

In style.

YWCA Scotland would be happy to support and advise other YWCA’s thinking about launching their own exhibition.  A more detailed description on how we done ours is over the page.  For further information please contact

by Meagan Manas
Cross-posted from National Council of Churches Women’s Ministries website

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28, NRSV (emphasis added) 

The recent dramatic story of a woman who received a face transplant after being shot in the face by her husband reminded anyone who may have forgotten of the traumatic effects of the epidemic of domestic violence.  Some statistics say that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in America alone.  With the economy and jobs worsening, the added pressure of financial strain is bound to increase this sobering statistic.  And each of us can be sure there is someone affected by domestic violence in our congregation.  As we read in Galatians, we are one, and if one person among us suffers, we all suffer.  Read the rest of this entry »

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