Ministry of Women & Family is not protecting women & family

In the modern world, advocacy for women’s rights, women empowerment and gender equality is a common thing. The awareness and the growing power of women is a norm in many developed countries.

We have people like Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing their roles of empowering women. Locally we have women figures like Dr Amalina Bakri, Zainah Anwar and her team in Sisters in Islam, Irene Fernandez, Heidy Quah, Dr Mazlan Othman and many more.

Although not directly, these people, and also many men have been supporting campaigns for women such as He for She, Girls Not Brides, and even the United Nations have stated in the Sustainable Development Goals that gender equality is one of the global goals.

Since independence, we as a nation, have been trying very hard to move from an underdeveloped nation, to a developing nation and hopefully towards a developed nation.

Without a doubt, Malaysia has grown significantly fast in terms of material development. In a short period of half of a century, we have among the tallest towers in the world, long bridges, good infrastructures, buildings and cities.

But as we continue moving forward towards the status of a developed nation, we ought to think of the definition of a developed nation. Beside materials, infrastructures and buildings, what other aspects do we have to achieve?

Gender equality and women empowerment is definitely one factor that determines the status of a nation. A developed nation is not only about buildings and infrastructures, but the mentality, mindset and the human capital.

Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 crisis, many Malaysians were simply disappointed with the newly formed cabinet members when it comes to women empowerment. And worst is that the blunder came from the Ministry of Women & Family.

When we are in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it started with a purported Deputy Minister Siti Zailah’s Twitter account that states “the probability of dying from coronavirus is 1%, while the possibility of dying at any moment is 100%”. But after being condemned by the Twitter world, the account was deleted. If the Twitter account is hers, which she did not deny, she should have acted like a leader, a Deputy Minister; admit the mistake, apologise and move on. And not deleting the Twitter account and not owning the mistake.

Even when she was appointed as the Deputy Minister during the period of crisis, one of the first few matters that she brought up was the shariah-compliant attire policy for female flight attendants. That was at a time when approximately 13,000 MAS airline employees had to take unpaid leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And this does not include other airlines yet. And that does not include employees from other sectors and industries which will affect every family in Malaysia yet.

When the employees are worrying and struggling to make ends meet, the Deputy Minister focuses on attire. The bread-and-butter issues have to be addressed first. Afterall, if the airline cannot survive through the crisis, what is there to discuss about the attire of the flight attendants?

The highlight happened last week when the Ministry’s official social media account posted a series of infographics with the hashtag of “#WanitaCegahCOVID19”, which I assume should be about how women can play a role in preventing Covid-19.

One of the infographics stated that women who work from home must avoid wearing home attire. They should be putting on makeup and wearing smart working attire. I totally agree that anyone including men, has to keep their outlook neat, tidy and nice. But I don’t see how this message is going to help to fight Covid-19. And I don’t see the necessity of wearing smart working attire at home unless we have to attend official video conference calls.

The other infographic basically mentions that, “If you notice that your spouse is carrying out task in a manner that clashes with your own method, avoid nagging – use a humorous way such as ‘cara sidai baju macam ni lah sayangku’ (mimic the tone of the cartoon character Doraemon and followed with giggling coyly”.

Again, this has nothing to do with the prevention of Covid-19. And this is totally not what should come from a Women’s ministry. When women should be taught how to empower themselves, this Ministry is telling the world that women are powerless and have to resort to such behaviour to get the agreement of their husbands. Can’t women reason with logic and sense? Can’t women debate and deliberate constructively? They are simply promoting patriarchy in this series of infographics, stating that men have the power over women; which is totally wrong.

To use a cartoon character, Doraemon as an example is simply showing that the Ministry is childish and unprofessional. Worst is that I don’t think the tone of the cartoon character would do any good in negotiating between husband and wife.

Well, the social media postings were then deleted after that which I think they owe an apology to every female in Malaysia.

Perhaps the Prime Minister should reconsider his appointment of his fellow cabinet members. For women to lead the Ministry of Women & Family but with the priority of restricting the attire of female flight attendants; and not finding ways to assist them during the difficult times is simply unacceptable. Perhaps she would perform much better in religious affairs.

There are a lot more important issues of women, gender and family for the Ministry to work for. 

Domestic violence, violence against women, sexual harrasment, sexual exploitation, child grooming, child marriage are some important matters that should be prioritize by the Ministry and the Cabinet.

When the Ministry of Women & Family should be protecting the women & family, they aren’t.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 7 April 2020.