NEW DELHI — Women in Malaysia were told to avoid sarcasm and to speak in the voice of a cartoon cat so they didn’t annoy their husbands during coronavirus lockdown.
Official advisories from the country’s women’s ministry told women to make sure they wore makeup at home, and to avoid loose and casual clothes.
The bizarre advice, posted on the Facebook and Twitter pages of Malaysia’s Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development (KPWKM), also said women should speak in the voice of Doraemon to men in their household while in lockdown.
The timing of the advice was particularly galling. Just a week ago, the KPWKM suggested closing down Malaysia’s crisis hotline for women and children as the country went into lockdown over the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The idea was scrapped after it was met with widespread outrage from women’s organizations. Since then, the hotline is reported to have seen a 57% increase in calls from Malaysians facing domestic violence at home.
Women’s groups have raised issues with the KPWKM on multiple occasions since fears about the coronavirus pandemic began in Malaysia. The leadership of the ministry changed last month when the democratically government was toppled in a political coup backed by the country's monarchy. Minister Rina Harun and her deputy Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff took charge of the department, and since then, the KPWKM has focused on issues like providing Sharia-compliant uniforms for the country’s airline’s staff — even as the employees were facing job cuts due to COVID-19 lockdowns. The ministry also fired a prominent children’s rights activist who was advocating for single mothers during lockdown, because he was appointed by a previous government.
Despite this, the advisory posters issued by the department on social media asked women to ensure peace at home.
The posters said that if a husband ignored his wife's requests to contribute to housework, wives should use humorous words and copy Doraemon's tone of voice followed by “giggling as opposed to nagging.”
One of the posters, part of a series called “The Happiness of a Household is Built Together, How to Avoid Fights at Home Between Husband and Wife,” asked women to refrain from sarcasm, and instead draw up a list of tasks for husbands to follow. The posters had only been online for a day when the ministry took them down and issued an apology.
"Our approach was to share ways and practices to maintain positive relationships within the family while working from home. Our team shares daily tips and positive messages on social media in line with our #WanitaCegahCovid19 [#WomenPreventCOVID19] campaign that covers different themes and the goal is to share the information among women,” KPWKM women's department director Datuk Saidatu Akhma Hassan wrote in a statement online.
“We would like to apologize if several tips were inappropriate or if they touched on the sensitivities of certain groups. We will be more careful in the future.”
The apology did not go down well — several Malaysians online described the language and tone of the apology as “gaslighting.”
At present, Malaysia has recorded 2,908 positive cases of COVID-19 and 45 deaths.
The country’s recently appointed health minister has unofficially been sidelined since he claimed during a national broadcast that drinking warm water kills the coronavirus. After facing ridicule online, all the latest announcements about the coronavirus are now delivered by the country’s director-general of health. BuzzFeed News has also learned that the Malaysian prime minister has issued unofficial orders to Malaysian media organizations not to report any negative news about the government’s handling of the pandemic.