The idea to start a centre for women in distress in Penang was mooted in 1982 when a group of concerned individuals realised that women in Penang and the northern region who experienced domestic violence had no place to go for help. Issues such as violence against women, women’s rights, and discriminatory laws against women received little attention in the media and the public were largely unaware of them.
A protem committee of seven were chosen, who drafted the constitution of Women’s Crisis Centre (Pusat Krisis Wanita) and registered WCC as a society on 1 July 1985. The inaugural meeting to elect the first General Committee was held at the Women’s Institute in September 1985 with about 70 people. The first committee consisted of women from all walks of life including lawyers, clerks, teachers, lecturers, and home-makers.
WCC started without much funds nor space but we did have plenty of energy and commitment. First, we offered a phone line for women to call when in distress. As the number of cases increased, face-to-face counselling was offered.
In the early days, WCC did not have funds to provide a dedicated shelter for abused women in emergencies, so sympathetic groups and individuals provided spare rooms in their own houses as the need arose. One of our first projects was to raise funds for a shelter for women and children facing violence. By mid-1989, WCC purchased a small house and this refuge began operation on 1 June 1990 and within a year, it had served as a sanctuary to 17 women, some with children.
The first WCC office was a small room rented from the local municipality at 57, Jalan Macalister. 8 years later, in July 1993, we moved into a double-storey terraced house at 24-D, Jalan Jones. In the mid-90s, WCC experienced the inevitable stresses and strains that come with an ever-expanding organisation, i.e., differences stemming from personal and ideological orientations. The organisation recovered gracefully as it proudly asserted its multi-ethnic characteristics and diversities – strengths it countinues to nurture and demonstrate to this day.
Our mission to improve the lives of women in our communities has been unwavering and we network with other NGOs and government agencies to create more opportunities for to work together for gender equality and in upholding human rights. As we became more established, WCC undertook research in addition to on-going counselling and public education activities.
The Domestic Violence Act started to be enforced from 1996 onwards, resulting in the set up of OSCC(One Stop Crisis Centre) at Hospital Pulau Pinang. WCC worked closely with the OSCC to ensure victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence have immediate access to medical and police services.
WCC also began to train other providers of services to victims of sexual assault and/or domestic violence, such as healthcare professionals, welfare staff and the police. This is the help them better understand the issues of violence against women and so that they will help these women with greater sensitivity.
Outreach into the community extended to schools, starting with Bijak itu Selamat (Be Smart, Be Safe) in primary schoolsand Respek in secondary schools. Legal reforms affecting women and children in Malaysia became a priority, with WCC leading the campaign for a sexual harassment law, together with Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).
In 2002, WCC took a significant step to change our name to Women’s Centre for Change to better reflect our organisation’s wider focus on women’s empowerment and change through education and advocacy. While services for women in crisis remains the core of our work, fundamental change in our society for social justice and gender equality requires us to put our efforts in challenging the way we think.
In 2008, WCC began support for rape victims who came through the OSCC(One Stop Crisis Centre). In the same year, WCC started managing PPW in Butterworth which was set up by the Penang State Government. In 2012, WCC moved to our current location at 241 Jalan Burma.
We have a team of 15 staff and some 30-50 regular volunteers from different ethnic, social and professional backgrounds who work closely in all areas of outreach, services, publications and advocacy.
WCC is recognised nationwide as a reputable women’s organisation. Our goals of eliminating violence against women and children and the promotion of gender equality remain the cornerstone of our work.
Today, WCC is involved in a much wider area of work. Apart from counselling and shelter services, we conduct outreach programmes in schools, colleges and community groups, provide sexual assault victim support. Together with JAG, we actively lobby the government for better enforcement of the law and better support for victims of sexual assault. A key channel to increase public awareness is to engage the media on issues related gender equality to reduce violence against women in our society.