In a series of Facebook posts, the Malaysian women’s ministry offered tips for how wives should behave during the lockdown, which began on March 18, with a series of online posters with the hashtag translating as #WomenPreventCOVID19.
One 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.
Another poster suggested using humour or imitating the infantile voice of Doraemon – a blue robotic cat from Japan that is popular across Asia – in lieu of nagging.
Others advised women working at home to wear makeup and dress neatly, rather than in casual clothes.
“We apologise if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties,” the ministry’s women’s development department said in a statement.
The apology came after the online posters sparked a public outcry. The posters have since been removed.
“(It) is extremely condescending both to women and men,” said Nisha Sabanayagam, a manager at All Women’s Action Society, a Malaysian advocacy group.
“These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
A government hotline that helps domestic abuse victims and vulnerable children has received nearly 2,000 calls – more than doubled the usual numbers – since the start of the partial lockdown, local media reported.
“How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” Twitter user @yinshaoloong wrote before the apology.
“No tips on how to deal with domestic violence?” asked another user @honeyean.
There have been fears of a surge in domestic violence worldwide as the stress caused by confinement and job insecurity increases the likelihood of conflicts.
A government-run helpline in Malaysia for vulnerable people, including victims of domestic abuse, has seen an increase in calls of more than 50 percent since the start of the lockdown, local media reported. Some governments have stepped up their response, including in France, which has offered hotel rooms to victims.
Malaysia is ranked 104 out of 153 countries in the latest World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, after scoring poorly on political empowerment and economic participation.