Warning of MCO’s ‘dark side’, women’s group urges Malaysians to cut down on sexist jokes online

Thasha Jayamanogaran
Sabanayagam said sexist jokes only serve to perpetuate gender stereotypes. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — With the reported increase of domestic violence cases during the movement control order (MCO) and the predicament of victims who cannot escape their abusers during this period, All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) has urged the public to cool off with the sexist jokes on social media.

Speaking to Malay Mail about their concerns that domestic violence victims now are more “trapped” and at greater risk because they are in the house all day with their abuser, such jokes only serve to perpetuate gender stereotypes, with men seemingly holding a more powerful persona, AWAM’s programme and operations manager Nisha Sabanayagam said.

“The public can help by not putting out sexist jokes on social media.

“This only serves to perpetuate gender stereotypes, with men holding a more powerful persona. Many men seem to think that NGOs are ‘unsporting’ when opposing these jokes, but actually there is a dark side to them.

“People process things differently and some will see these jokes as not jokes but the norm. So, in actuality, these sexist jokes further perpetuate the concept of patriarchy, which is one of the root causes of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence,” she said.

Women’s rights groups in the past few days have repeatedly condemned the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development after it imparted some rather left-field advice to women, especially wives and mothers working from home in the form of awareness posters seen as politically incorrect.

On Tuesday, the ministry released a series of posters, with one directed at mothers working from home.

The poster appeared to stress the importance of one’s appearance, advising work-at-home mothers to “groom as usual” and always look neat.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry advised wives to adopt a 'Doraemon-like' tone when speaking to their spouses earlier this week. — Facebook screencap

In a subsequent poster on ways to educate one’s spouse on doing household chores, to presumably avoid quarreling, wives are advised to adopt a “Doraemon-like” tone and giggle coyly as opposed to “nagging”.

The groups warned that the message conveyed through the posters titled “Kebahagiaan Rumahtangga” or Household Happiness could worsen gender stereotypes and to a certain extent encourage domestic violence.

These posters have since been deleted from their accounts, and the Women’s Development Department has apologised over them.

Instead of producing such material, many groups suggested that the ministry should study the implications of Covid-19 on women and develop a strategy together with civil society groups and other stakeholders to address this.

“To strengthen the process of supporting people, all service providers should work together and send out similar messaging to the public.

“I say this in the context of the women’s ministry’s now-globally infamous message which served to the tone down the dangers of domestic conflict and violence and basically encouraged women to accommodate men, even if they behave badly, which is wrong,” Nisha added, referring to the “Doraemon-tone” suggestion.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has also told Malay Mail that its statistics showed an approximate 14 per cent increase in hotline calls and WhatsApp enquiries on domestic violence to the group since the MCO began.

Before the MCO, from March 1 to 17, WAO only received an average of 10.5 hotline calls and WhatsApp enquiries per day.

In contrast, once the MCO began, from March 18 to 31, this rose to an average of 12 calls and WhatsApp enquiries per day.

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