Kuala Lumpur — Posters advising wives how to act during the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia raised a hue and cry from women’s rights groups, as well ridicule online from many others.
This prompted an apology from the Women’s Development Department, which released a statement on March 31 saying it would be more careful moving forward.
Datuk Saidatu Akhma Hassan, the director-general, said, “We are sorry if some of tips shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties, and we will be more careful in the future.”
The “household happiness” posters were meant to spread positive tips and messages every day, using the hashtag #WanitaCegahCovid19 (women curbing Covid-19).
These tips included advice like wearing make-up at home, not nagging husbands or being sarcastic with them when it comes to getting chores done, speaking in a voice like Japanese anime Doraemon, which happens to be a male character.
Women were not only advised to talk like Doraemon but to end their sentences with a giggle.
One poster showed a man and a woman hanging laundry. The message in Bahasa Malaysia read, “If your spouse does something that displeases you, don’t nag him. Use humour and tell him ‘this is the way you hang the clothes, my darling’ (and use a Doraemon-like voice and giggle)”.
Another poster emphasized the importance of good grooming, telling women to “groom yourself as usual” and to always look neat.
The advice was meant to curb domestic arguments while people were working at home due to the enforced MCO, which Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said last week would be extended to April 14 due to a spike in the country’s Covid-19 cases.
Malaysia currently has 2,766 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 43 deaths.
There have been reports that incidents of domestic violence have been on the increase ever since the country imposed lockdown orders.
According to one Malaysian media outfit, a government hotline that extends assistance to domestic abuse victims and vulnerable children has gotten almost 2,000 calls, more than twice the usual amount, ever since the MCO began.
However well-meaning the posters were, they caused women’s rights groups and even members of the public to protest against them, pointing out the political incorrectness of the posters.
They said that the posters could actually backfire, as they strengthen gender stereotypes and might even be seen to encourage domestic violence.
The Star quotes the programme director at Women’s Centre for Change in Penang, Karen Lai, as saying, “Women have the right to speak up about how they feel without having to be labelled as nags and certainly without needing to stoop to becoming cartoon characters.”
A manager at Malaysian advocacy group All Women’s Action Society, told Reuters that the message is also damaging to men, calling it “extremely condescending both to women and men. These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy.”
On Twitter, @yinshaoloong wrote, “How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” —/TISG
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