The Women’s Minister and her Deputy were appointed following the unexpected takeover by PN. Amidst increasing alarm over the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the economy, the Deputy Minister’s first reaction was to police the attire of women flight attendants. When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced, the Ministry’s Talian Kasih support hotline was immediately shut down, only to be revived after a public outcry. Subsequently, the Jabatan Pembangunan Wanita (JPW) issued its infamous e-posters asking women to wear makeup at home and speak like Doraemon to please their husbands. The resulting huge outrage is understandable, and Malaysia has become a laughing stock worldwide.
The Ministry’s response to the backlash is merely a conditional apology for offending the “sensitivities” of certain quarters, which sadly shows its total failure to understand how gender stereotyping in society can demean women.
In this unprecedented critical time where many women especially those in the B40 and other vulnerable groups are struggling to survive, the MWFCD’s misplaced priorities reflect its complete lack of sensitivity to realities on the ground. While the Prime Minister has proffered the excuse that the Minister and Deputy are new to the job, the public expectations of any Minister and Deputy appointed to office would be to hit the ground running, more so for a Ministry tasked with overseeing the interests of women, who form 50% of the population, and whose duties and responsibilities cannot be understated.
For over a decade now, civil society groups, especially women’s and children’s organisations, have been engaging with the MWFCD to move forward the women’s agenda for the nation. This includes critical legislative reform initiatives on sexual harassment, stalking, paternity leave, gender equality, child marriage and other important areas affecting women and children, all in the interests of the population at large.
Given the current crisis, many countries are witnessing an alarming trend of a global spike in domestic violence directed at women and girls, as warned by the United Nations Secretary General. In Malaysia, there is still no announcement to help abused women and children nor, for instance, any kind of policy to support poor women who are expected to be more vulnerable in times of crisis.
We wish to remind the MWFCD that Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Malaysia in 1995, requires our government to take all appropriate measures in order to eliminate discriminatory stereotyping of sex roles between women and men.
Now, more than ever, is the time for the MWFCD to step up and provide the necessary leadership which our women, families and communities need to get through this crisis and beyond. It includes valuing women’s unpaid care work, recognising their vulnerability to gender-based violence and economic hardship in the wake of the pandemic, and so many other pressing issues that deserve our time, attention and practical solutions.
We call on the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development to issue an unconditional apology over the content of JPW’s e-posters which is not only offensive but also has far-reaching implications and consequences to women’s dignity and wellbeing, and to ensure that all the MWFCD’s public communications henceforth steer clear of such pitfalls.
We also recognise that the overwhelming circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Movement Control Order (MCO) have made it difficult for civil society to engage meaningfully with the Ministry.
We therefore urge the MWFCD to initiate such engagement, especially with women’s and children’s organisations, as soon as practicable in order to explore constructive ways forward for the empowerment of women, families and communities in line with the government’s existing obligations to promote women’s human rights and gender equality as enshrined in CEDAW, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and our Federal Constitution.
Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:
1. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
2. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
3. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
4. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
5. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
6. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
7. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
8. Justice for Sisters (JFS)
10. Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
11. Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
12. Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
13. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
14. Knowledge and Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
Endorsed also by the following civil society organisations :
15. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
16. Bersih 2.0
17. G25 Malaysia
18. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
19. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
21. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Pusat KOMAS)
22. North South Initiative
23. Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia (FRHAM)
24. National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC)
25. Voice of the Children 26. Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM)
27. Freedom Film Network (FFN)
28. People Like Us Hang Out! (PLUHO)
29. Queer Academics, Students and Supporters Alliance (QUASSA)
30. Queer Lapis
31. Seksualiti Merdeka
32. L-Inc Foundation
34. PLUsos (People Like Us Support Ourselves)
35. Reproductive Health Association of Kelantan (ReHAK)
36. Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (SUSDEN Malaysia)
37. Local Unionist Networks Malaysia (LUN)
38. Global Shepherds
39. Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
40. Tanah Dahai 41. Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES)
42. Ruang Kongsi
43. Desa Ria Residents Association, Sungai Ara, Penang
About the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is a coalition of 14 women’s rights organisations in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak. Since 1985, we have been advocating for gender equality and social justice in Malaysia within a feminist framework. We leverage our diverse expertise and amplify women’s voices to raise public awareness and advocate for law reform. We uphold international human rights standards in promoting justice, equality, and non-discrimination.
Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
8 April 2020