1. Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)

SGBV – Girls 0 – 12 years:

“The woman is shamed – depressed – isolated. She does not know what to do. She only  thinks of suicide” (Refugee woman 2019)  

For the kids, if they are abused physically or sexually ..it will affect the physical development and then it will remain a black spot in their entire life …but when she is older, a lot of people in her environment, women and men will judge her and that will affect her a lot.  .. that kind of things happen when we don’t have a safe school, a safe environment. And then, if they are pregnant they will be giving birth at a very young age. It will affect their physical development.

Refugee woman 2019

The women relayed many examples of young children experiencing sexual and gender-based violence. This included rape and sexual harassment by stepfathers, in particular when mothers had remarried to seek protection for themselves and their children; They are victims of severe family violence, including watching their mothers being abused. Risks of SGBV for children are increased by lack of parental supervision while they try to earn money. The impacts discussed included low self-esteem, dropping out of school, running away from home, poor mental health.

Of particular concern was the occurrence of Trafficking across all age groups, as was unsafe access to WASH facilities. Conditions in the camps and the lack of access to justice contribute to the extremely high incidences of SGBV perpetrated by men and boys in the refugee community, members of the local community and others.

The impact of these problems has serious implications for girl children in their future lives, as they create vulnerability to future SGBV and produce even more barriers to participation in decision-making.

SGBV – Girls 13 – 17 years

Forced and early marriage is a major problem and a major manifestation of sexual and gender-based violence.

“This is a child, and she is playing with a toy.  The father is with cane and he say “You will marry a man. And he arranged marrying. But this girl, she didn’t know anything. Her body is not ready for marriage. She is waiting to grow up. Now she is crying, when the father came and she holding her doll because she doesn’t know what the father is do.” (Refugee Woman 2019)
“So what happened? – the girl she got in pregnant. Her body is not ready for pregnant. She is facing body problem. This man he don’t love the daughter. Because her father give this man so she don’t have any idea about marriage, any idea about the pregnant. And she is a child carrying another child. The man he beating the girl because he don’t love. Finally she taking two decision: to make suicide; another one to take divorce.”

The women described sexual violence in this age group as endemic. Many issues are the same as those for girls aged 0 -12. Girls who are raped and “shamed” often drop out of school and take whatever illegal work they can get to support their families. Levels of sexual violence in these situations are extremely high.

There is also a high incidence of child marriage (including forced marriage) and early motherhood. 

The other thing is dowry …… And we can say that, it’s a kind of selling girls and women. And it is mostly related to poverty.

These girls are often deserted by their husbands and left with children at a very young age. Many do not have the skills and knowledge to raise a child, which places their babies at risk. “They are too young to manage a family.”  While early marriage is often attributed to ‘culture’, the women analysed its structural causes in their lives in Kuala Lumpur, including lower access to education for girls. It is exacerbated by the introduction of school fees and lack of other meaningful activities, high levels of sexual violence, poverty, and the view that marriage is a means of protecting young girls from rape and sexual harassment.

There were many complaints of sexual abuse in schools, by school bus drivers, and by fellow students, who felt they could act with impunity because of the attitudes of their teachers.  Women also discussed that when very young girls give birth, the babies were often not documented because of shame. 

For teenage mothers, when they are not physically or mentally very strong, if they get pregnant they will tend to be more stressed, more depressed, and sometimes it can lead to suicidal thoughts. They will become afraid of going outside, they will be isolated

Refugee Woman 2019

If something bad happens that they are going to just take it all out on the girl from the family so girls are used for honour killings as well. …Yes, even here

Refugee Woman 2019

Women shared many examples of ways in which risks of SGBV and gender discrimination intersect with every other aspect of women and girls lives and are a major barrier to accessing their other rights. For example, women and girls are at risk every time they leave their shelters to collect water and use toilets and bathing facilities. The lack of lighting at night significantly increases the risks of rape, particularly when women are forced to walk long distances from their shelters to use WASH facilities. In some camps, women noted that due to insufficient water points that many women and girls were forced to walk long distances in the forest to collect water and in doing so faced increased risks of rape and sexual abuse.

The girls went into the forest area to collect the water. At that time the person raped her.
If any girl faces the rape, people . . . think bad about her family and the daughter. They don’t think about the perpetrator. . . . People don’t think that,  it’s not her fault, that she only went to take the water. (Participant – TOT)

Early and child marriage is endemic, with some girls younger than 12 being married.  Early pregnancy often leads to the death of the mother and/or the baby.

A 12 years – old girl is married to a 40 years-old man…. She got pregnant shortly after the wedding. Being pregnant is not good for her health. This time her physical condition is not well. A lot of bleeding from her body. The women facing some problem such as [early pregnancy], they will be physically un-well, they will die, baby will be die when delivery time. (Refugee woman)

Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence is a major problem compounded by increasing incidents of polygamy. Sexual harassment happens everywhere.

The men attributed an increase in SGBV to the increasingly difficult conditions under which the refugees live, which trigger desperate survival mechanisms, trauma, and loss of hope.

Child labour may be a consequence . . . They work because the food support we get from aid agencies is not enough.  . . .Child marriage, sexual harassment – these are consequences because adolescent children don’t get enough service and education.

Refugee man

They discussed how conditions in the camp, including infrastructure (e.g. the location and design of WASH facilities), lack of livelihoods and poverty contribute to increased SGBV against women and girls.

Mostly men are also jobless and have social expectation to provide for their family. They are very much frustrated about this situation. Their right to work has been taken away in the camps.  This frustration is behind to be involved in many bad practice such as beating and ill behave with close family and friends, …… theft etc. This kind of practice negatively affect them and their family (Refugee man)

SGBV – Girls 18 – 24 years:

Women are raped in refugee camps… then when they run, at borders…., then here in Malaysia…in schools…in jobs….in the market… by the police

Refugee Woman, 2019
“Some women can sell her body to feed her children because there are no job opportunities. Also . . . when a woman faced rape she will be silent, she cannot talk. Because if she talks about that, she may lose her husband, she may lose her children and her community. But if she keep on silent she cannot get the solution for this problem SGBV”. (Refugee woman, 2019)

Once again rape and sexual abuse are endemic for this group, and women reported an alarming increase in domestic and family violence. Both married and single women are forced to seek illegal work which puts them in danger of sexual abuse. Women in this age group often have the care and responsibility of young children and are unable to leave even severely abusive relationships. There is a chronic lack of safe longer-term shelters which means that many women who do flee for safety have to return to the abusive situation from which they fled.

The women also reported lack of access to justice for women who have experienced rape, domestic violence or other gender- based violence, with camp justice level responses described as completely inadequate. Many cases of abuse are not taken seriously by the male representatives. Women reported that rape cases taken to the Thai authorities are also often not taken seriously and sometimes result in further abuse or victimisation. This high level of impunity results in significant underreporting of SGBV.

Cyber-bullying is a growing problem in Malaysia, with men promising to marry girls, taking suggestive photographs, and then threatening to post them online if the girls does have sex with him.  Women stated that when they are sexually abused, victims often just remain silent.  Sometimes they choose drugs, or suicide.  If they have a baby from these abuses, some engage in survival sex to feed themselves. They don’t participate in anything.

SGBV – Girls 25 – 50 years:

Survivors of SGBV need mental health care.  If we go for counselling and are sent to a psychiatrist, there is no counselling – we are given medication…they are handed to us like candy.  Women [who experience this] are like dead people – like walking zombies.

Refugee Woman 2019

Once again, this group suffers from endemic levels of domestic violence, The impacts are depression, despair and sometimes suicide. They also have less access to livelihood opportunities. Many have not completed their education, which makes them vulnerable to workplace exploitation and harassment. If they are widows or single mothers, the reduced food and other rations makes then even more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Some are forced into survival sex to support themselves and their families. This also happens to younger women. Their houses are not safe having neither front or back doors and  unable to be secured, which is a further risk as building material supplies have also been reduced.  This increases the risk of violence to women and girls.

“and if they run to a shelter, they can only stay one month, and then there is no-where for them to go, so they go back to that toxic place, to the hell” (Refugee Woman, 2019)  

SGBV – Older Women:

Older women are often the victims of domestic violence, either directly or as witnesses of violence in the homes they share with their children. Some are seen as burdens by families already struggling to survive, and they are subject to both physical and psychological violence.

SGBV – LBTI Women:

for LGBT woman, in our culture and religion we really tend to deny and then ignore them in our society. And then for all those cases if you are abused sexually you will have sexually transmitted diseases and there is no cure, you can die. 

Refugee woman 2019

This is a mainly hidden group because homosexuality is little understood or accepted. As well as being vulnerable to the abuses experienced by other women, they can endure additional layers of violence from the community. Many see it as against their culture and/or religion. Those who are identified as LBTI endure both physical and verbal abuse and shaming. Due to the stigma that they suffer, they are even less likely to seek protection and justice than other groups when they experience violence, abuse and harassment.

One refugee women leader commented on how important it had been to include the LBTI category on the Matrix even though this was a difficult group for many women to talk about. In particular she highlighted the fact that while issues for transgender women were more frequently spoken of, lesbian women in the community remained a very hidden group.

LBTI the name that is new for them. They knew it in different way. So far, they have seen male – transgender to female. But female are not willing to talk about it.

Refugee woman facilitator

SGBV – Women with Disability:

The women reported that women and girls with a disability are stigmatised and discriminated against. They have less access to education and employment than other women and girls, and are consequently very vulnerable to SGBV. They suffer from very high levels of sexual abuse because of these issues.

If they need to go out they have to take taxis, and taxi drivers have raped women with a disability.

In cases where a person with a severe disability has had a child of rape, they are often unable to care for the child. This affects their mental health and ability to cope at any level. It also puts an additional burden on their family.

SGBV – Widows/Single Mothers:

This appears to be a generic term used by the interpreters to cover widows and all single women with children. In spite of the many types of violence experienced by women, and the high levels of DV, and drug and alcohol addictions amongst the men, the women stated that “any man was better than no man because, without the protection of a man, a woman was vulnerable to sexual abuse in every part of every day”.