The Malaysian government has apologized after telling women to speak with a cartoon cat voice and avoid nagging their husbands during coronavirus (koronavirus, in Finnish) lockdowns, a move that sparked a sexism row.
The country has ordered citizens to stay at home to stem the spread of Covid-19. In a series of Facebook posts, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development issued advice on how to avoid domestic conflicts during the partial lockdown, which began on 18 March, with a series of online posters with a hashtag translating as #WomenPreventCOVID19.
One now-deleted post showed a picture of a couple hanging clothes, next to a caption that urged women to “avoid nagging” their husbands – and to imitate the squeaky voice of Doraemon, a cartoon robot cat from Japan that is popular across Asia.
One another of the campaign posters depicted a man sitting on a sofa and asked women to refrain from being "sarcastic" if they needed help with household chores.
"How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?" one Twitter user wrote before the apology.
The Ministry of Women apologized and conceded the advice may have offended some people. It pledged to “remain cautious in future” but claimed the suggestions were aimed at “maintaining positive relationships among family members during the period they are working from home”.
Issues faced by women during MCO; feeding your kids, household hygiene, safety, keeping your children productively occupied, domestic abuse.. the list goes on. “stop nagging, use makeup”? No! https://t.co/Zt2kZgEGvz— Yasmin Mahmood (@YasminMahmood88) March 31, 2020
There have been concerns over a surge in domestic violence worldwide caused by the stress of confinement, with experts suggesting job insecurity was increasing the likelihood of conflicts.
A government-run helpline in Malaysia for vulnerable people, including those affected by domestic abuse, has reported a more than 50% increase in calls since the lockdown began on 18 March, local media reported.
Avoid wearing home clothes. Dress up as usual, put on make-up and dress neatly. OMG! This is what Rina, our Minister of Women, Family & Community Development thinks is important during the #COVID19 lockdown? No tips on how to deal with #DomesticViolence? Just state DV is a crime. pic.twitter.com/FfswtPBIPH— Honey Tan (@honeyean) March 31, 2020
Women's groups have warned lockdowns could result in a rise in domestic violence, with women trapped with their abusers.
Some governments have stepped up in response, including in France which offers hotel rooms to victims.