Biweekly Human Rights Roundup

Controversial Posters from Women’s Affairs, Workers’ Rights in Covid-19, Prison Inmates Helping Frontliners … Human Rights Round-up (03/04/2020)

Local news

1. Controversial posters from the Department of Women’s Affairs

4 April 2020
(Kementerian Pembangunan Wanita, Keluarga dan Masyarakat – this post has been deleted)


In a series of online posters with the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19, Malaysia’s women’s affairs ministry issued advice on how to avoid domestic conflicts during the partial lockdown. It has sparked a sexism row.

Karen Lai, programme director at Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) in Penang, commented that “women have the right to speak up about how they feel without having to be labelled as nags and certainly without needing to stoop to becoming cartoon characters” and pointed out that negative stereotypes of women as subordinate to men are at the root of gender inequality, which could lead to discrimination and violence against women.

The ministry also stressed on women’s appearance while working from home, urging them to dress up and wear their makeup “as usual”. Nisha Sabanayagam, manager in All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), said such posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy.

The ministry has since apologized and removed the posters, but they have been screenshot by a Twitter user and can be viewed here

2. Workers’ Rights in relation to Covid-19

4 April 6


Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri announced that all private sector employers must pay their workers’ salary during the two weeks of the movement control order (MCO). However, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) pointed out this statement has no force of law.

One of the issues is the situation of force majeure may arise – in an event that is beyond the reasonable control of either employer or employee, either party has the right to nullify the contract; in other words, contract is frustrated. To address the practicalities of employment policies, MEF has called for flexiblity in allowing for Covid-19 unpaid leave.

Donovan & Ho has provided its opinion on Retrenchment of Workers due to Covid-19;   Skrine has also posted a Covid-19 Pandemic: FAQ on Employment.

3. Prison inmates sew protective gear for frontliners

4 April 8
(Malaysian Prisons Department)


Prison inmates in Pahang and Selangor have taken up the task of sewing personal protective equipment (PPE) as frontliners are facing shortages in medical supplies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inmates work from 9am to 5pm and make the medical protective suits that require five metres of fabric just to complete one set. Penor Prison director Datuk Abu Hasan Hussain said the sewing workshops are operating on Saturday and Sunday as well, which is out of the norm, because they realize the urgent need for PPE at this time.

The picture by Malaysian Prisons Department above which captured the spirit of togetherness in the face of fighting a pandemic put things into perspective for the Malaysian public who are currently in the second phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO) until April 14.

4. Eric Paulsen – Human Rights and Covid-19 

Universal healthcare


Eric Paulsen, Representative of Malaysia to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), has written an article about human rights in the Covid-19 pandemic. He urged the public that “while protecting public health must be prioritised, we should not abandon our principles and commitments to other rights, including equality and non-discrimination.”

Referring to worldwide reports on the rise of racism and xenophobia, he reminded that on the topic of public health, it should not be forgotten that the public are not one homogeneous group, not least in Malaysia. Listing out the marginalised groups in our country – people who are elderly, suffering from disabilities, in poor health, low-income earners, stateless, refugees, migrants (including many who are undocumented) and everything in between, Eric said measures taken to control the spread of the disease will affect people of all backgrounds, some more than others. In other words, “the effectiveness of the response on those who are the most marginalised will have a direct impact on mainstream society”.

Hence, the Health Ministry made a wise decision to provide free tests and treatment for everyone with symptoms of the coronavirus, including foreigners. However, he pointed out that it is crucial for the information to be disseminated widely, particularly as a number of Rohingya and other Muslim refugees are known to have attended the Sri Petaling Tabligh event.

In short, Eric noted that the coronavirus outbreak highlights the importance of creating a truly inclusive, equal and non-discriminatory society. He called for us to aim for the highest attainable standard of health, including ensuring that all public healthcare services and goods be made available, accessible, and of good quality for everyone.


International news

5. India: Covid-19 lockdown puts poor at risk

4 April 7
(Times of India)

On 24 March, India announced a three-week nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. This decision has, according to the Human Rights Watch, disproportionately hurt the communities to loose livelihood due to lack of food, shelter, health and other basic needs. 

The lockdown left tens of thousands of out-of-work migrant workers stranded; closing of state border caused a stoppage in the supply of essential goods leading to inflation; reports showing the police punishing and punishing those against orders raised the issue of police brutality.

More than 80 per cent of India citizens are employed in the informal sector, and one-third working as casual labourers. Hence, it is crucial that the authorities make use of the resources to ensure deliveries of services and provide protective equipment to those who are at the front lines.

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