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No such thing as ‘hitting a wife gently’

The rhetoric about husbands being allowed to discipline their wives is delivered without deep reflection and connection with the reality that women face.

Sisters in Islam
3 minute read

This statement is in response to the deputy minister of women and family community development’s (MWFCD) two-minute video advising husbands to physically “touch” their wives in a “soft but firm” way as featured in The Star’s article published on Feb 12.

The recent video on “tips for husbands to advise their wives” by Siti Zailah is appalling. It is deplorable for a deputy minister of the women, family and community development ministry 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 behaviour.

The video by Siti Zailah mentioning that husbands are allowed to strike their wives with a soft yet firm physical touch is dangerous and misleading as there is 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. In the last 30 over years that women’s groups have been advocating to end domestic violence, the narrative that a husband is allowed to gently beat his wife is no longer accepted nor tolerated, even in most Muslim-majority countries.

Domestic violence is a pressing issue and must be addressed urgently. Our Telenisa line which provides free legal consultation on Islamic family law and shariah criminal offences law reported in Telenisa: Statistics and Findings 2020 that domestic violence is still the most stated reason for divorce at 23%.

Domestic violence has consistently been one of the main reasons, and it remains as the most recorded reason for seeking divorce since 2019. Clients who experienced domestic violence in 2020 reported that they went through various types of violence or abuse during the pandemic. Reports of physical violence are tallied at 37%, psychological abuse at 31%, social abuse at 11%, financial abuse at 16%, and sexual violence at 5% (Reference: Telenisa: Statistics and Findings 2020 book)

According to the MWFCD as reported in The Star on Sept 23, 2021, a total of 9,015 domestic violence cases were recorded since the start of the movement control order (MCO) in March 2020 until August 2021. The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) also reported a high number of enquiries and calls through WAO SMS/WhatsApp enquiries (3,512) and telephone calls (3,599) in 2021.

Is the deputy of MWFCD not worried about these high numbers? What action has she taken to address this and why was this video allowed in the first place?

Unfortunately, the video by Siti Zailah displays that she is clueless on the lived realities of women and how to address women and children’s issues, especially domestic violence. She seems to still be blind and unaccepting of women’s lived realities. The rhetoric about husbands being allowed to discipline their wives is delivered without deep reflection and connection with the reality that women face. How can she be oblivious to the high reporting of domestic violence during the period of this pandemic?

This video is also highly embarrassing for the MWFCD and the Perikatan Nasional government as it demonstrates that she is stuck in very old ways of interpretation and thinking about the status of women in relationships, and that they can never be regarded and treated as equals to her husband.

Instead of acting her role as a deputy minister of the MWFCD to push for gender equality and address to end domestic violence that would relate to all women in Malaysia in our current context, she released a video that perpetuates and supports the treatment of women as unequal persons in marriage who may be subjected to discipline and correction by physical means.

The MWFCD as well as the Perikatan Nasional government must realise that having a deputy minister of this calibre of thought about women and how they deserve to be treated is a huge liability and burden not only for them but for all of us as Malaysians.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.