COVID-19: Sexist quarantine suggestions from Malaysian ministry go viral

Malaysian wives working remotely urged to not nag, wear makeup at home, speak like Doraemon and giggle when addressing husbands.

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Malaysia’s Ministry of Women and Family Development (KPWKM) has come under fire for some supposedly helpful posts that have been deemed sexist. 

In a series of posters shared on social media, the Ministry shared some tips for wives working from home during the COVID-19 national lockdown in Malaysia.  

One of it urged women to not nag at their spouses and to adopt a tone like the Japanese robot cat cartoon character Doraemon, followed by ‘cutesy giggles’ to cajole them if things were not done their way.  

Some of the other graphics encouraged women to dress up and wear makeup even when working from home. Women were also advised to refrain from being sarcastic when it comes to asking for help with housework. 

The posts have since been deleted and the Ministry has issued a statement about it on March 31. 

“We shared some daily tips and positive messages on social media under our #wanitacegahcovid19 (women prevent COVID-19) campaign touching on various themes with the aim to share information with women,” read the statement in Malay. 

“We are sorry if some of the tips were not appropriate and touched on the sensitivities of certain parties. We will be more careful in the future.”  

The response to the posts has ranged from outrage to ridicule, with some making memes and parody videos that have gone viral.  

Malaysian NGO Women’s Aid Organisation came up with their own poster and hashtag – #wanitabukandoraemon (women are not Doraemon). The organisation stated that women should never have to act like ‘Doraemon’ or be childlike to be taken seriously. And even if they want to #GelakManjaDoraemon (giggle cutely like Doraemon), it’s their own decision.  

Malaysian actress Chelsia Ng posted a video mimicking the ‘throaty kind of voice’ in Doraemon’s Malay dub and laughingly pondered if some men find it cute.  

“How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” chimed in Twitter user @yinshaoloong   

The Obedient Wives Club is a controversial organisation with chapters around the world. It generated a furore in 2011 when it urged Muslim wives to curb social issues like gambling and prostitution by being subservient to their spouses.  

Some of its leadership has called for its members to become a ‘good whore’ to their husbands and to serve him ‘better than a first class prostitute’.  

The KPWKM also drew the ire of the public recently when it decided to suspend its domestic violence hotline when the lockdown was initiated. It has since reactivated its Talian Kasih helpline after public backlash.   

There are worries that the quarantine measures worldwide have caused a rise in domestic abuse. The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection around the world has gone to over 800,000, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. And quarantine measures worldwide may not be lifted anytime soon worldwide, leaving many victims trapped.  

The United Nations Women, the equality arm of the UN, says up to 70 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in some national studies. The global average is still one in three women.   

The KPWKM itself has reported that the number of calls has increased by 57 percent to 1,893 calls during the enactment of the Movement Control Order in Malaysia. Malaysia is currently placed at 104 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap index. It measures countries based on four factors: economic participation/opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  

The World Economic Forum’s report gives the sobering estimate that gender parity will not be attained for another 99.5 years, meaning that we are unlikely to see it happen in our lifetime.  

In India, some organisations are keeping their helplines open during the pandemic.  

“Our 24-hour hotline, and our crisis and rehabilitative services for burn survivors are accessible to those who require support. As an organisation that works in providing crisis services to the most vulnerable, we are working round the clock to ensure that no woman is left behind even as we prioritize the health and safety of everyone,” said Rashmi Singh, the programme director of UN Trust Fund grantee the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC). 

Besides abuse, women in Asia have also been rallying against misogyny in different ways. 

The #KuToo movement in Japan, a reference to the Me Too movement and a play on the Japanese words for shoes and pain, is an ongoing campaign against workplace policies that force female employees to wear high heels. It has been compared to the practice of foot binding.