Deputy Minister Slammed for Video Suggesting Women Accept Abusive Spouses

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Message unacceptable and unbecoming of a public official in a ministry tasked to protect women.

Sisters in Islam joined a growing chorus of condemnation against Women and Community Development Deputy Minister Datuk Hajah Siti Zailah, over a controversial video that suggests women “accept, remain patient and forgive” their abusive spouses.

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The vocal feminist organisation called the message in the video unacceptable and unbecoming of a public official in a ministry tasked to protect women.

In a 5-minute-18-second video, Siti Zailah dished out advice on how to handle stress for married couples locked down by the six-week movement control order, which included being patient with their spouses and accepting their flaws.

She said wives should think of the husband’s “1,000 strengths”, say thank you and forgive each other. For Muslims, she suggested they take their ablution to calm down when feeling angry.

“While those are general advice for any marriages and relationships, the video by Siti Zailah gives out an underlying tone that women should accept, remain patient and forgive their partners despite their partners’ abusive attitude,” the group said in a statement.

“This is unacceptable as deputy minister of Women, Family and Community Development.

“She should be empowering women by affirming that they deserve to live a life free from violence and fear and to reiterate that women and children’s safety are the utmost priority for the (ministry).”

The video has invited public wrath, who said the message was demeaning and dangerous to women facing abusive partners. This comes as concerns mount over the rising reports of domestic abuses during the MCO.

Groups like SIS and the Women’s Aid Organisation reported an increase in domestic violence in just the first two weeks of the government-enforced “stay-at-home” order.

With the restrictions in place, there is an increased risk of violence, with help inaccessible for victims trying to escape their abusers, especially for high risk cases.

The government has since announced another extension — from April 15 to 28.

The ministry’s controversial video was likely issued as a response to such concerns. But SIS said it instead reflected Siti Zailah’s failure to grasp the issue and dynamics of being in an abusive marriage or relationship, especially during the MCO.

“Furthermore, Siti Zailah mentioned that the MWFCD through Talian Kasih 15999 has taken action against 100 percent of the complaints received,” it said.

“What actions have been taken exactly? How do the three tips given by Siti Zailah then serve the purpose of promoting Talian Kasih 15999?”

In stark contrast to Siti Zailah’s message, SIS pointed to a separate clip that featured Datuk Mohd Na’im, the Director General of the Department of Syariah Judiciary.

In his video, Mohd Na’im advised women to protect themselves and their children by refusing to become the husband’s punching bag, and to muster the courage to leave the house if they are abused.

“He also mentioned that a wife will not be nusyuz if she left the house of her abusive husband and that all of us have the responsibility to protect our bodies from harm,” the group noted.

Nusyuz refers to a defiant wife. Islam places a great emphasis on a wife’s loyalty, but strictly prohibits abuse, experts have said. – MMO