Protector of abuse victims named Her World Woman of the Year

SINGAPORE - The case of a woman who had been abused by her husband repeatedly over seven hours spurred Dr Sudha Nair to set up Singapore's first family violence specialist centre in 1999.

Then a social worker at Ang Mo Kio Social Service Centre, she received a voicemail message from one of the woman's three young children saying "Please come".

Their father had abused their mother from 10pm the previous day to 5am that day.

The woman, who was bruised all over, had to go to a police station to make a report before applying for a personal protection order.

"That really bothered me because when a person is in a traumatic state, she shouldn't be running around looking for services," said Dr Nair, now the executive director of Promoting Alternatives to Family Violence (Pave). "I decided we needed to provide a first responder kind of service so that they don't need to rush around and the counselling can start immediately."

Since then, the 58-year-old has helped countless victims of spousal abuse to get back on their feet. Her centre provides legal and counselling services to victims of family violence. Counselling services are even extended to the abusers.

To recognise her efforts, Dr Nair was on Wednesday (Aug 24) honoured with the Her World Woman of the Year award - given to women who have contributed to society and are role models for other women.

The annual award has been presented by Singapore Press Holdings' title Her World - Singapore's best-selling women's magazine - since 1991.

Previous winners include Professor Chan Heng Chee and Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Zuraidah Abdullah.

Direct Funeral Services managing director Jenny Tay won the Her World Young Woman Achiever award for her efforts in transforming the funeral services industry here.

She has modernised the traditional set-up of wakes by improving the aesthetics of their venues. Her company also provides an average of eight pro bono funeral services every month.

Both women were given a trophy by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin at the Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday night.

Ms Tay, 30, said the award will encourage her to do more for the cause that she believes in.

Apart from bringing closure for those who lose their loved ones, she wants to help elderly people who live alone through her non-profit Direct Life Foundation, which was set up last year. "Filial piety is something that I want to champion... In Singapore, we tend to neglect that part because of the busy lifestyle," said Ms Tay.

For Dr Nair, the accolade is a recognition of all social workers who "battle every day with the complexities that families bring".

A social worker for 30 years, she said one fulfilling part of her work is knowing that she has made a difference in the lives of others.

The case in 1999 which changed her career path had a happy ending. Many years after the incident, the woman decided to leave her husband and has since remarried.

"The children are all grown up now. I get invited to their weddings. Once in a while, they will call to say hi," said Dr Nair. " It is a wonderful feeling."