Malaysia calls on women to 'stop nagging, use makeup' in coronavirus advice

By Beh Lih Yi, Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - C oronavirus lockdown advice issued by Malaysia that urges women to dress up at home and avoid nagging their husbands sparked a sexism row on Tuesday, with critics saying it promotes gender stereotypes.

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

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

Avoid nagging your husband, another poster said, attempting to inject humour by using a voice similar to the anime character Doraemon - a blue robot cat popular across Asia.

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

"(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.

The posters, uploaded on Facebook and Instragram, drew widespread ridicule online with social media users urging the government to remove them.

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

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

The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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. 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)