In what was meant to be a helping of “motherly” advice dispensed through social media videos, a female member of the Malaysian parliament told husbands to “gently” beat their wives if they ever get too unruly.
The comments have drawn strong criticism from other women MPs and women’s advocacy groups, some of whom are now calling for her resignation.
In an instalment of her “Mother’s Tips” video advice series posted on Feb. 12, Deputy Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, said husbands may “discipline” their wives by speaking to them, and if they persist in being disagreeable, by sleeping in separate quarters for three days.
“However, if the wife still refuses to take advice or change her behavior after having slept separately, then the husbands can try gentle but firm physical touch in order to show his firmness and his desire for her to change,” Siti Zailah said, adding that the action must be “educational, full of love and does not cause pain.”
She then addressed wives: “Speak to your husbands when they are calm, done eating, have prayed and are relaxed… If we wish to talk to them, ask their permission first.”
The official capped off the two-minute video, which has been viewed at least 21,000 times on Instagram and 16,000 times on Facebook, by sending off viewers with a religious blessing for family prosperity.
Comments on the videos are mixed, with some hailing her advice as true to Islam, the predominant religion in Malaysia, while others pointed out it is “never right to strike another person.”
A coalition of women’s rights advocates called on Siti Zailah to step down as deputy minister, and accused her of “normalizing domestic violence” and “perpetuating ideas and behaviors that are opposed to gender equality.”
“[Coming from] a minister who is meant to uphold gender equality and the rights of women to protection and safety, this is abhorrent, denies women the right to equality, their right to dignity and to be free from degrading treatment,” the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality said in a statement.
“It is grossly in error and a demonstration of failed leadership.”
Domestic violence is a crime in Malaysia, and the country is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. Siti Zailah’s “advice” contradicted this official stance on equality and protection of women, the joint action group said as it called on the government to “take seriously” its commitments and role as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Hannah Yeoh, an opposition lawmaker, challenged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri to have Siti Zailah “demonstrate how men should use ‘gentle but firm physical touch’ to discipline their wives.”
“Ask the doctors, activists, and NGOs who handle domestic violence cases on a daily basis. Is it appropriate for a topic like this to be discussed through a two-minute video?” Yeoh said on Twitter.
In response to Siti Zailah’s comments, Nurul Izzah Anwar, also an opposition lawmaker, pointed out that domestic violence in Malaysia has increased during the pandemic, with 9,015 reported cases mostly against women.
“This so-called ‘advice’ by the deputy minister is a disservice and goes against current realities & needs,” she said on Twitter.
Siti Zailah didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
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