Malaysian Minister under Fire for Apparently Endorsing Domestic Violence

Suganya Lingan
2022.02.14
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysian Minister under Fire for Apparently Endorsing Domestic Violence Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, the Malaysian deputy minister for women, family and community development, participates in a parliamentary debate in Putrajaya, Oct. 27, 2021.
Courtesy Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff Facebook page

Women’s groups and people across gender lines came out on Monday to criticize a federal minister who appeared to endorse domestic violence in one of two short videos she posted to social media last week.

Husbands are allowed to use a “gentle but firm physical touch” that is “educational” on recalcitrant wives, Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, the deputy minister for women, family and community development, was seen as saying in one of the videos posted on Facebook.

The MP from the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) also advised men to use counseling and sleep separately from their spouses for three days, saying that Islam recommends such measures for when their wives do something they disapprove of.

“If she does not listen even after being advised and sleeping in different rooms, here we [husbands] can use ‘soft but firm’ physical touch that is educational, full of love and does not cause pain,” Siti Zailah said in the video that was posted on Saturday.

She also recommended that women make sure their husbands had eaten, prayed and were in a good mood before approaching a difficult subject to ensure harmony at home. The videos have been viewed more than 16,000 times on Instagram and 12,000 times on Facebook.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Siti Zailah’s ministry did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment on the videos.

‘Violence is violence’

MP Hannah Yeoh, who served in the same post at the ministry until the Pakatan Harapan government fell in early 2020, asked Siti Zailah to explain what she meant. 

“It’s dangerous to make such a video – ‘firm but gentle’ is subjective. Just ask teams of doctors, activists and NGO that deal with domestic violence,” said Yeoh, an MP from the opposition Democratic Action Party.

Another opposition lawmaker, Nurul Izzah Anwar of the People’s Justice Party, also questioned the videos’ content.

“The pandemic has only seen an increase in domestic violence, predominantly against women,” she said on social media. “This so-called ‘advice’ by the deputy minister is a disservice and goes against current realities and needs.”

Sisters in Islam (SIS), a Muslim NGO known for liberal views, called the videos appalling. 

“It is deplorable for a deputy minister of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to make and share a video that supports women being treated as subservient, inferior beings who deserve to be disciplined and corrected in their character and behavior,” the organization said in a statement shared with BenarNews on Monday.

It also said there was no such thing as a husband hitting a wife gently.

“Violence is violence and there is no justification on how a husband should ‘educate’ or ‘reprimand’ a wife. Furthermore, the narrative that a husband is allowed to educate his wife by hitting her gently arguably opens the door to violence, especially since there has yet to be a wife who has complained that she has only been gently hit by her husband,” SIS said.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, a coalition of women’s groups, demanded that Siti Zailah resign. 

“The deputy minister must step down for normalizing domestic violence, which is a crime in Malaysia as well as for perpetuating ideas and behaviors that are opposed to gender equality,” it said in a statement.

Hardliners offer support

However, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA), a hardline Malay-Muslim NGO, supported Siti Zailah’s videos.

“Prior to giving unwanted comments on Islamic teachings, why don’t we dissect the real cause of domestic violence? How many cases were caused by drunkards and drug addicts? How many of the cases were due to mental health issues related to poor socioeconomic status and debts,” Fatimah Zaharah Rosli, the assistant leader of ISMA women’s wing, told BenarNews.

She Islam teaches a holistic way of living including avoiding alcohol, and questioned why no one applauded Muslim society for banning alcohol as a way to reduce domestic violence. 

“Why is it that the so-called feminists among the MPs feel so heroic when they are able to take Islamic teachings out of context and bash the Muslims for it?” she asked, referring to Nurul Izzah’s and Yeoh’s comment.

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