Wear makeup and giggle during home lockdown, Malaysia tells women

Original photo: Trung Nguyen
Original photo: Trung Nguyen

Malaysian women, if the men are going to have to stay inside that home all day with you, please speak in a pleasingly meek tone and put on some damned makeup, already.

That was the message to the nation’s women from the government agency tasked with advocating for them that’s now under fire for telling women how to dress and act to not bother their men.

The now-deleted public service announcement posted to the Women and Family Development Ministry’s Instagram advised women not to nag their husbands but rather mimic the voice of Japanese cartoon character Doraemon. Among other dubious tips was that they should apply makeup when working from home.

“We’re in the middle of a domestic violence crisis as many survivors are trapped at home; but instead of implementing safety measures, women’s minister @RinaMohdHarun decides it’s more appropriate to tell women how to dress & how to behave at home. take. this. shit. down. @KPWKM,” @Lmao_ais tweeted today, using the ministry’s official acronym.

Rina Mohd Harun heads the ministry, and most of the online attacks have been directed at her for propagating gender bias amid a domestic violence crisis, which many believe could worsen during the lockdown imposed two weeks ago to stem the spread of COVID-19. The disease has officially killed 43 people and infected 2,766 in Malaysia as of today.

Domestic violence has been on the rise in Malaysia, with nearly 6,000 cases reported in 2016, according to the Women’s Aid Organization. That was the highest number since 2000. It dipped slightly two years later in 2018.

Thousands have been prevented from going to work after the lockdown was imposed March 18. It was recently extended through April 14. 

“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. Stop this sexist messaging @KPWKM and focus on #domesticviolence survivors who are at higher risk now!” local women’s group All Women’s Action Society tweeted

The online posters, which were written in Malay, made it clear it was a woman’s responsibility not to upset her husband and instructed them on how to avoid arguing while at home.

Public Service Announcement by Malaysia's Women and Family Development Ministry.
Public Service Announcement by Malaysia’s Women and Family Development Ministry.

One example it gave was to inject humor by mimicking Doraemon’s voice, followed by giggling, instead of nagging at their husbands when they do something wrong. Real empowering stuff, there.

The advice roughly translates to the following: “When we see the husband doing something that contradicts our wishes, avoid nagging by using humorous words like ‘This is how you hang the clothes, my dear’ (mimic Doraemon’s voice followed by a giggle!).”


It also advised women to ask their husbands for help with household chores instead of dropping sarcastic remarks, and to count to 20 before reacting when their husbands offend them.

“When something offends you, count from one to 20 before making a response (in 20 seconds, the mind will think more rationally and calmly before you react),” the women’s advocacy agency said. 

For women who have to work from home, the ministry said they should avoid wearing home clothes, dress nicely and apply makeup.

Public Service Announcement by Malaysia's Women and Family Development Ministry.
Public Service Announcement by Malaysia’s Women and Family Development Ministry.

The overall response only underscored how out of step the ministry came across to many.

“Excruciating! Women must act like cartoons to pacify their husbands. Feel like we have stepped back to 1982 when I first began work for women’s rights. To note KPWKM Instagram has under 6k followers garnered 27 likes & 90 comments of which majority were “what blardy nonsense!” Malaysian women’s rights activist @IvyJosiah tweeted.

Neither the ministry nor minister have responded publicly to the backlash. 

More stories from Malaysia at Coconuts.co/KL.

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