PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A series of posters on household happiness posted on Malaysia's Women and Family Development Ministry's Facebook page has raised the ire of women over their sexist messaging.
In one poster with a caricature of a woman and man hanging clothes out to dry, the message in Malay reads: "Jika melihat pasangan melakukan sesuatu yang bercanggah dengan kehendak kita, elakkan dari berleter - gunakan perkataan 'humorous' seperti 'cara sidang baju macam ni lah sayangku' (tiru nada Doraemon dan diikuti dengan gelak manja)"
("If your spouse does something that you do not like, don't nag him. Use humour and tell him 'this is the way you hang the clothes, my darling' (using Doraemon's tone and giggling).")
"Emulating Doraemon's tone?" asked freelance writer Lois Kam, 47. "How is this going to empower women or help any household other than, maybe, Doraemon's? Please, change the minister and her deputy because not only is this not helpful, it is harmful."
Women's rights activists have also called for women's minister Rina Harun to take down the posters.
"These posters stereotype women as being bossy and naggy," said Women's Aid Organisation's advocacy officer Tan Heang-Lee.
"They also send the message that it's women's responsibility to change their behaviour in order to avoid conflict at home. it's very one-sided.
"What about the man's responsibility? So if fights or abuse were to happen, do these posters imply that it's the women's fault?" she asked.
Executive director of the Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Ms Sivananthi Thanenthiran said that the messaging on the poster infantalised women.
"It implies that the only way a woman's advice is going to be taken into consideration is if she talks like a cartoon character.
"The messages also reinforce that household concord depends on women and how we handle these smaller issues and, somehow, discord and the violence that stems from that depends on women's actions, words and responses.
"In reality, a man uses either verbal or physical violence simply because he is a violent person," said Ms Sivananthi, adding that these messages would not help women faced with verbal, emotional and physical violence during the movement control order (MCO).
Ms Karen Lai, programme director at Women's Centre for Change in Penang, said negative stereotypes of women as subordinate to men were at the root of gender inequality and ultimately led to discrimination and violence against women.
"The implicit message is that men are allowed to slack off on domestic work and it's women who must follow up with them, but that they should only do so nicely.
"The ministry has the responsibility to promote healthy role models for women, families and communities. The ministry must stay well away from such stereotypes and instead focus on empowering women's agency and self-confidence whether in the home or public sphere.
"Women have the right to speak up about how they feel without having to be labelled as nags and certainly without needing to stoop to becoming cartoon characters," said Ms Lai.
Given the increased risk of domestic violence during the MCO, the ministry should be doing more domestic violence prevention public service announcements, said Ms Tan.
It was reported that since the MCO, the ministry's Talian Kasih hotline had seen a 57 per cent increase in calls from women in distress.