Gender stereotyping of women: Stop controlling women’s appearance and behaviour

29 June 2012

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is alarmed at the discriminatory treatment of women, the most recent involving news anchor Ras Adiba Mohd Radzi and Ampang MP, YB Zuraida Kamaruddin.

On 26 June 2012, it was reported that Ras Adiba was suspended by television station NTV7 for cropping her hair in support of Makna’s (National Cancer Council of Malaysia) Jom Botak cancer awareness campaign. A source within NTV7 was reported to have said that it felt the need “to upkeep a certain look and feel” of the station, and that a bald woman would not be presentable as news anchor.

NTV7’s stand perpetuates the gender stereotyping of women. Instead of recognising the presenter’s skills, experience and active role for a worthy cause, the station focused on the superficial issue of length of hair.

JAG is also disturbed about the anonymous calls allegedly made from a religious department to Ras Adiba, all of which referred to a fatwa prohibiting women from shaving their heads. Instead of encouraging empathy with those in need, a virtue integral to all religions including Islam, the persons who had called were fixated on how a woman should appear.

This brand of harassment is reminiscent of the National Fatwa Council’s fatwa against “tomboys”, a word defined so vaguely as to describe almost any number of Malaysian women.

The disturbing message is that women who do not look or behave according to a narrow prescribed definition of ‘femininity’ will face sanction.

In a similar vein, on 24 June 2012 YB Zuraida Kamaruddin was described by the Prime Minister as “tak sayang mulut” and was accused of behaviour unbecoming of a woman. This occurred when she was posing a question to him on the neglect of numerous initiatives for women, such as gender mainstreaming, gender sensitisation and the 30% quota for women in top management.

Such comments by the Prime Minister, who is also the Women’s Minister, are unbecoming to his office.

JAG calls for an immediate halt to all similar degrading comments and policies. Instead of promoting archaic views on how women should dress and behave, the media and policymakers should highlight and address the pressing issues that affect women’s lives.

Released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, which comprises:
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)

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