Put make-up on. Avoid nagging. Speak in a squeaky cartoon cat voice.
These are just some of the steps that women in Malaysia have been asked to follow by the government in order to make life easier for men and women cohabiting as couples under the coronavirus lockdown.
The global coronavirus pandemic has pushed people inside their homes and cloistered families together within the confines of four walls. But while many are treating a lockdown as an opportunity to relax and let their hair down amid the crisis, it seems Malaysian women do not have the option.
Following a national lockdown on March 18, the Malaysian government issued a series of infographic coronavirus advisories for women. The online posters, issued by the Ministry of Women and Family Development on their social media pages, contained a variety of tips for women on how to deal with the lockdown and ensure a happy home life with their husbands or partners and avoid arguments and discord.
A poster with the image of a couple hanging clothes urged women to "avoid nagging" while another with a man sitting on a sofa asked women to not bve "sarcastic" when seeking help form their husbands or partners. This was meant to reduce disagreements among the couple as no man, obviously, likes to be nagged or told what chores to do by a woman.
Other posters advised women to put make-up on and dress in smart clothes rather than casuals while working from home. Because even at home, women are always on display.
Yet another asked women to imitate the squeaky voice of popular cartoon cat Doraemon while speaking at home. Because why not reduce women from actual, equal humans to a cartoon cat?
The posters were released with the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19. But how does wearing makeup and not nagging men help women prevent coronavirus?
The now-deleted posters were instantly blasted by women's rights organisations from across the world as well as Malaysians who called the posters deeply sexist. Many proponents of women's rights groups rightly found the advisories deeply condescending and sexist.
Many on social media also wondered how wearing makeup and keeping their husbands happy would help women prevent coronavirus.
The progress of women in Malaysia just took a fucking leap backwards. https://t.co/sleQYYbkr0— Dr Jason Leong (@DrJasonLeong) March 31, 2020
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.— All Women’s Action Society (@AWAMMalaysia) March 31, 2020
Stop this sexist messaging @KPWKM and focus on #domesticviolence survivors who are at higher risk now! https://t.co/mU7nBqbkgk
Even using their weird logic, I don’t even understand this advice.— Syahredzan Johan (@syahredzan) March 31, 2020
Doraemon is a male robot cat. pic.twitter.com/btktDWmpdV
Overseas friends have contacted me to tell me that we have officially made international headlines with this. The world is fighting a pandemic and here we are asking women to behave like cartoon characters.#WanitaBukanDoraemonhttps://t.co/jiEOytiaP9— Majidah Hashim (@majidahhashim) March 31, 2020
Following the outrage, the Malaysian government issued an apology and removed the posts from their social media handles."We apologise if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties," the ministry said in a statement.
In the wake of the lockdown which forced many couples into voluntary or involuntary lockdown, cases of domestic violence have registered a global spike. In Malaysia itself,local media reported that the number of calls to a national helpline for vulnerable persons including victims of domestic abuse has surged by nearly 50 percent since the partial lockdown to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 18, the helpline had received nearly 2,000 calls.
According to experts, the stress of isolation and containment, as well as threat to job and food security, are likely to be contributing to tensions at home.
In terms of gender gap, Malaysia's performance remains poor, ranking 104 out of 153 countries in the latest World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index.