COVID-19 Op-ed

Flip Side of the Lockdown in Malaysia: Home May Not be Safe for Women and Girls

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Sophea TryStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

To counter the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments
around the world have taken strict measures by asking their people to stay at
home, practising social distancing, or putting the country under partial or
full lockdown. Notably, the enforced measures imposed by the government is a
range of impact affecting many vulnerable groups such as women and girls.
Women and girls are most likely to do additional house work, such as cooking,
cleaning, and caring for the family members. While women continue to shoulder
a disproportionate and increasing burden of care, it can lead to the high
risk of gender-based violence, especially sexula expolitation.Likewise in
Malaysia, as the country has witnessed the increasing numbers regarding the
Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin decided to implement a
nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) on 18 March. The first-phase of the
order was expected to last until 31 March, but later got extended until 14
April (Tan, 2020). Following this order, schools, non-essential services, and
factories have been closed and people have to stay at home to minimize the
contact. Since the rate of new cases per day remained consistently high in
the country, the government had announced further extension of the MCO to
last until 28 April 2020 (Tan, 2020).Undeniably, the nationwide lockdown in
Malaysia has an impact particularly on women and girls as they are at the
high risk of facing gender-based violence. Many domestic violence activists
and NGOs have reported an increased number of people who have called for
help. The government also revealed that since the start of the movement
restrictions, the welfare hotline saw a 57 percent spike in calls (Sakumaran,
2020). In an effort to stop domestic violence in the country, the Ministry of
Women’s Affairs on 31 March, shared a series of online posters that advised
women to “dress up at home and avoid nagging their husband” during the nation
lockdown (Yi, 2020).  It actually reflected government insensitivity
toward victim-blaming and normalising domestic violence. The posters sparked
massive criticism from activists and commenters over the media and later were
taken down (Yi, 2020).While home is the safe place to contain the Covid-19
outbreak, we should realize that home can also be the most terrified and
dangerous place for some women and girls. Since abuse mostly happens behind
closed doors, home becomes the most violent space for committing the
violence. Victims of domestic violences are likely to report the case or ask
for help only when they are not with their abusive partners, and there is a
chance for victims to report the case when the abusers are going for work or
going outside. However, during the lockdown, women and girls who experienced
the abuse cannot escape the house and they are likely to be trapped with the
abusers. Thus, restrictions on leaving the house make it harder for the victims
to report the case and seek help on time. Currently in Malaysia, a walk-in
service to report the case is unavailable due to the movement restriction.
Many domestic violences service providers are also unable to help the victim
in person and respond effectively. Access to justice services have disrupted
as well since the government institutions shift resources to the public
health crisis.Although the government is now preoccupied with a pandemic, the
Malaysian government shall ensure its obligation to respect, protect, and
fulfill the rights of its people at all times. Violence against women is
still a crime and the victims have a right to be protected. The government
must urgently protect women and girls against the violence during the crisis
by adapting a new way to help people. The state should offer temporary
shelters for the victims. Although access to health services for women may
dwindle at this moment, the government should strengthen essential health
services, as well as consultation and psycho-social support. While everything
has moved to online communication, so does the online advocacy. There should
be more campaigns to give information on how women can access the service. In
addition to this, communities and service providers need to be in a friendly
manner to help the victims by encouraging them to report the case through
emergency response hotlines, phone consultations, and virtual sessions.Never
could we have imagined that we need to deal with this unpredictable pandemic.
However, gender-based violence is not a new phenomenon, and the Covid -19 is
just a fuel to spark the violence more unhearable and unreachable. This
global health crisis not only tests the ability of everyone to respond to it
quickly and effectively, but also add more responsibility for us to reach out
to the vulnerable groups who are at high risk.References:Sakumaran,
Tashny, 2020. In Malaysia, Domestic Violence Spikes Amid Lockdown to Slow
Coronavirus Infections. South China Morning Post,  11 April. Available at:<>
.Tan, Vincent, 2020. Malaysia’s Movement Control Order Further Extended Until
April 28: PM Muhyiddin. Channel News Asia,  10 April. Available at:<>
.Yi, Beh LIh, 2020. Malaysia Calls on Women to “Stop Nagging, Use Make Up” in
Coronavirus Advice. Reuters,  31 March . Available at: <>

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