Malaysia's government is facing widespread criticism from women’s organisations and Malaysians alike after posting a series of “sexist” advisories for wives and mothers working from home during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) posted a series of infographics on its social media pages on Monday aimed at telling women how they can stay productive and keep the peace at home.
One of the posters aimed at mothers working from home advised them to “groom as usual”, put on makeup and dress neatly for the workday.
The ministry also appeared to refer to the lockdown as a holiday, adding: “Such a long holiday and need to work from home is something difficult for mothers because oftentimes they lose focus on things.
“We would also like to remind you, don’t be too focused on work until family members are not monitored, which can result in a violation of the Movement Control Order,” it added.
Malaysia has been placed under a Movement Control Order (MCO) from 18 March as part of the government’s response to stop the spread of coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country.
Under the order, most shops and places of worship have closed and residents were told to stay home and not to travel except to get essential supplies.
In another post that has since been removed from the ministry’s social media pages, women were advised not to “nag” their partners who do household chores wrong.
“If you see your partner doing something wrong, avoid nagging – use ‘humorous’ words like saying: ‘This is how you hang clothes my dear’ (imitate Doraemon’s voice and follow up with giggles!),” suggested the ministry.
Doraemon is a popular Japanese cartoon character that speaks in a high-pitched, nasally voice.
Other posters also told women not to use a sarcastic tone with husbands when asking them to help around the house, and to count to 20 when feeling hurt to be “more rational and calm”.
Women’s rights activists have lambasted the ministry, led by women’s minister Rina Harun, and said the posters made it women’s responsibility to keep the peace at home.
Tan Heang-Lee, advocacy officer of the Women’s Aid Organisation told local newspaper The Star: “These posters stereotype women as being bossy and naggy.
“They also send the message that it’s women’s responsibility to change their behaviour in order to avoid conflict at home. It’s very one-sided.
“What about the man’s responsibility? So if fights or abuse were to happen, do these posters imply that it’s the women’s fault?”
The All Women’s Action Society also criticised the advisories and said: “Women have more than enough to do during the MCO without the added pressure of putting on make-up and looking good.
“Women are human too – not an object or a commodity.
“While dressing up to work is one way of maintaining discipline and a routine while working from home, the focus on LOOKS, DRESS and MAKEUP is absolutely unnecessary,” tweeted the organisation.
“Stop this sexist messaging and focus on domestic violence survivors who are at higher risk now!”
Malaysians also took to social media to criticise the ministry’s “demeaning” posters and make fun of the suggestions.
Michelle Yesudas, a legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists, said: “Folks this is the most sexist thing to come out of the Ministry of Women. It infantilises women, men, provides unnecessary couples counselling advice steeped in misogyny and perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”
Another person joked: “I am the leader of this household and I make all the decisions, I demand to be treated with respect but please… if you want to ask me to do house chores or tell me what I’m doing wrong… use your Doraemon voice. I can’t understand you otherwise. I simply can’t.”
Malaysia has reported 2,767 Covid-19 cases and 43 deaths so far.
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