I was shocked to see the posts by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry urging women to not argue with their husbands and on their dressing during the Movement Control Order.

While women’s rights groups are promoting shared responsibility in the family – including husband, boys and girls, the Ministry choose a more disparaging approach to women’s status in the family. Unfortunately, their message feeds into the stereotype and perception that family and household duties are women’s responsibility and men are bread winners.

It is unacceptable that when it comes to national crisis, as in the case of COVID-19, and where men are confined to homes, it is still the duties of the women to nurture the men’s feelings, while women must be supportive and understanding.

Dear Minister and Deputy Minister, in this millennium we have gone past such archaic ideas. Women and men both need to work and they must share family responsibilities, otherwise families can’t cope. However, the Ministry has made a serious error by only advising women to take care of their partner’s feelings, and again reinforcing stereotype roles that disempower women.

The Ministry also failed to realise that not all families are in harmony. In domestic violence household, such advise from the Minister only sweeps domestic violence under the carpet and reinforces the muting of the abused. The approach to ‘endure and please him, keep your mouth shut, and serve him well’, will only make the abused more subservient to their partners/abusers. Telling women to speak in soft tones to their partners is also outrageous and shows a serious lack of understanding of the rights of women and their freedom.

Let’s not backtrack and move forward to recognise that gender equality is about building a family and relationship with shared responsibilities and that it must also include men.

Both the Minister and Deputy Minister are women and they must step up and embrace equality and non-discrimination as their principles. Otherwise you are insulting women and girls.

When it comes to working from home, it is really up to the employee to determine the dress code. Employees know how to dress when they are communicating online. The Ministry should not get involve in policing dressing especially when it comes to telling women what to wear. Moreover, telling working women not to get too caught up in work that they neglect their family, possibly resulting in a violation of the MCO, is simply outrageous. How can a Ministry that is supposed to fight for a more gender equal world even come up with such a statement!

Currently there are more pressing issues that the Ministry needs to spend time resolving for example over the confusion caused after the Government prevented NGOs from distributing food. The seriousness of this issue cannot be understated because many of the poor families, including the children, the elderly, the homeless and the disabled are starving and in need of urgent help now and have nowhere to turn to! Meanwhile, some NGOs delivering food to poor families are now being forced to throw away food meant for the poor because of this ruling. Going through just the JKM and relying heavily on Rela and the Army is not working due to the lack of space and human resources needed to carry out such a task. As it is, resources are already being stretched and the NGOs can help reduce the burden of Government social workers.

Better guidelines must be implemented now to allow NGOs to distribute food while adhering to the strictest possible social distancing measures. This is what should be the priority of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

To progress into the future, we are so in need of a Gender Equality Bill as well as gender mainstreaming at all government ministries and agencies.