KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 ― Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) president Abdullah Zaik Abd Rahman’s blaming of feminism for familial problems reveals his ignorance of the movement and outmoded views of gender roles, said women's groups.
Empower president Janarthani Arumugam said the Islamist group president’s remarks was also further indictment of how far feminism in Malaysia was behind the rest of the world.
Abdullah Zaik’s claim that feminism was causing women to neglect their children and families demonstrates a poor understanding of the movement that seeks gender equality, she explained.
“They are in dire need of gender sensitisation. Gender sensitisation training refers to an effort to show how gender shapes the role of men and women in society, especially its impact on the relations between them.
“In the case of Isma, they have none at all,” she told Malay Mail Online.
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Sumitra Visvanathan said Abdullah Zaik’s position was “primitive” and demonstrated why the feminist movement was necessary now more than ever.
She said the view that women’s roles revolved solely around being homemakers betrayed a patriarchal mindset that was rooted in male insecurities.
“Rahman’s very notion that ‘feminism has a negative impact if it’s not filtered by culture or religion'... demonstrates the critical need for widespread education on and adoption of feminist principles in Malaysian society,” she said.
Joshua Teh from the Penang chapter of Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) said the Isma president’s views on gender roles were shallow.
Expressing his full support for feminism, he said the core aim of the movement was to gain equality for women at home, in the workplace and society in general.
“Feminism is often mistakenly viewed as anti-men or seen as promoting women’s dominance over men. Isma’s statement comes from a place of insecurity, seeking to control women’s spaces and voices in society, limiting their role to solely as homemakers,” the WCC advocacy officer said.
Abdullah Zaik on Tuesday said feminism caused women to prioritise their careers to the detriment of their families.
The women's groups also criticised Abdullah Zaik for blaming women's Internet habits and social media use for causing problems within families, even suggesting that it may lead to increased divorce rates.
“Isma seems fundamentally opposed to any platforms that facilitate women's rights and freedoms, including their access to the Internet,” WAO's Sumitra said.
“They are trying to control women by controlling our access to information. We must reject such attitudes outright.”
Teh said both men and women use social media and both have to balance their uses for “personal and shared responsibilities”, while Janarthani said the claim was making scapegoats of women without first discovering the root of the problem.