Malaysia apologises for telling women not to nag during virus lockdowns

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:31 GMT

A woman wearing a protective face mask crosses a bridge, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

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Malaysia's women's affairs ministry campaign included advice to speak with a cartoon cat voice and wear makeup while working from home

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By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Malaysia apologised on Tuesday after telling women to speak with a cartoon cat voice and avoid nagging their husbands during coronavirus lockdowns, a move that sparked a sexism row.

Malaysia's women's affairs ministry issued advice on how to avoid domestic conflicts during the partial lockdown, which began on March 18, with a series of online posters with the hashtag translating as #WomenPreventCOVID19.

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One of the campaign posters depicted a man sitting on a sofa and asked women to refrain from being "sarcastic" if they needed help with household chores.

Avoid nagging your husband, another poster said, but use humour or imitate the infantile voice of Doraemon, a blue robot cat from Japan that is hugely popular across Asia.

The ministry also urged women to dress up and wear makeup while working from home.

"We apologise if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties," the ministry's women development department said in a statement.

The apology came after the online posters sparked a public outcry. The posters have since been removed.

"(It) is extremely condescending both to women and men," said Nisha Sabanayagam, a manager at All Women's Action Society, a Malaysian advocacy group.

"These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

A government hotline that helps domestic abuse victims and vulnerable children has received nearly 2,000 calls - more than doubled the usual numbers - since the start of the partial lockdown, local media reported.

"How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?" Twitter user @yinshaoloong wrote before the apology.

"No tips on how to deal with domestic violence?" asked another user @honeyean.

Women's groups have warned lockdowns could see a rise in domestic violence, with women trapped with their abusers. Some governments have stepped up response, including in France which offers hotel rooms to victims.

Malaysia is ranked 104 out of 153 countries in the latest World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index, after scoring poorly on political empowerment and economic participation.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Michael Taylor and Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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