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Women With Choices, Voices Against Violence

By Edly Kamaruzzaman Bin Elias

Edly recently completed his final year of law school at Taylor’s University. As part of the community service module during her final semester at Taylor’s Law School, her team ran a virtual legal clinic named ‘Women With Choices’. This was a collaborative effort with the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) to provide support and legal advice for women suffering from domestic abuse and violence during the pandemic. 

Edly’s reflection

During the module, I found myself in a peculiar position in which others would look up to me for direction. When we were deciding what the focus of our Virtual Legal Clinic would be, my faculty of reasoning concluded that three elements needed to be considered when picking a topic or niche. These three areas are value to the marketplace, access to the marketplace and our circle of competence.

At the end of our first meeting, there was a unanimous vote to take on the issue of domestic violence and sexual abuse suffered by women. The Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia had caused a spike in domestic violence cases because of a variety of factors. I thought this was the perfect issue for us to address. An important issue, at an even more important time. The idea was to pair up with NGOs, who were already understaffed, in order for us to leverage their platforms, systems and infrastructure to get access to our potential clients. Furthermore, having studied Family Law and Criminal Law for two semesters, we were confident in terms of our competency.

Although a daunting issue, it wasn’t long before we came to an agreement with AWAM to help them with their influx of calls regarding domestic violence and problems that are faced by women. We got in touch with an AWAM representative, and she guided us through the systems and procedures on how to conduct and report the virtual legal sessions. We established a duty roster where everyone would take at least one call per day and we were handling cases in no time.

In the process of conducting our virtual legal clinics, I realized that the nature of the cases we were handling were quite distressing. The team regularly checked in with each other to make sure that everyone was doing fine mentally. But I was glad to see that everyone handled their cases well, no matter how distressing it was.

AWAM’s client management system was comprehensive and encouraged us to record every interaction we had with the clients to make sure that records were kept in an organised manner. This helped develop my conscientiousness and orderliness as I had minimal experience with data entry. Since the project, I’ve used the same principles and tactics to create schedules for my day, which has tremendously helped me in prioritising my time and organising my day.

Among the cases I’ve handled, one involved a 45-year-old mother (M) of 2 sons who were taken away from her by their father, her husband. The husband had another daughter with another woman, and so M asked me what legal action she could take against her husband for restricting access to her 16 and 14-year-old sons. After some probing, I found out that M’s sons did not want to live with nor talk to her, so I had to tell her that there was no legal basis for her action. She was distressed, so I had to tell her the truth in a compassionate but professional way.

I’ve reflected on my ability to deliver the message with empathy on that day, given that I’m usually quite a disagreeable person with little compassion, and I realized that this project has helped me make significant improvements not only as a law student, but as a human being. I realized that no amount of intelligence or knowledge could replace understanding and wisdom. Although I was nervous at first, I’m glad that I took up the project and was assigned to that specific client.

We named our Virtual Legal Clinic ‘Women With Choices’ because we wanted to raise awareness on domestic violence and let women know that support was one call away. I experienced first-hand what it was like to be a leader in a distressing and socially complex community project, which helped me broaden my perspective on cooperation and working in teams. I also discovered the compassionate and empathetic side of me that was concealed because of my personal experiences and ego.

Overall, it was one of the best experiences and modules that I’ve gone through in my time at Taylor’s Law School. In my opinion, these types of practical experiences are exactly what our future lawyers need more of, instead of spending the majority of their time in classrooms learning about theories at the expense of obtaining real-world experience.

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