Malaysia: The Obedient Wives’ Club Signals State’s Failure to Uphold Women’s Rights in the Family


The ASEAN Progressive Muslim Movement (APMM), a network of twenty one (21) non-governmental organizations working for the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the ASEAN region, jointly with Women Living Under Muslim Laws and the Global Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women in the name of "Culture" (Violence is not our Culture Campaign), view the recent formation of The Obedient Wives’ Club (OWC) in Malaysia as disturbing and offensive. The Syarie Lawyers Association (PGSM) in Malaysia has attacked the Club for encouraging women to fulfill their husbands' needs by being "good prostitutes". See attached APMM's statement of concern.

The Club aims to “teach women to be submissive and keep their spouses happy in the bedroom as a cure to social ills” by learning to be good lovers so they can “obey, serve and entertain” their husbands to prevent them from straying or misbehaving. Its use of Islam to justify its call for women to become “obedient wives” is a misrepresentation of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed which enjoin women and men to conduct their marriages on the basis of mutual co-operation and respect, for husbands to treat their wives well and help with housework. It distorts the Qur’anic concept of "nusyuz" or disobedience, which applies to both women and men, to mean only a “woman's disobedience to her husband”.

Immediately dismissed by politicians and activists as a throwback to medieval times and an insult to modern women of Malaysia, this latest initiative is by the Global Ikhwan group, a multi-national conglomerate formed by ex-members of the banned Al-Arqam group. It confirms that ultra-conservative, radical Islamic forces continue to thrive in Malaysia, and could easily spread their influence in neighboring countries in the Southeast Asia region. A chapter in Bandung Indonesia has already been established and several more branches are reportedly being set up across the country. The Global Ikhwan was also instrumental in the founding of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club in 2009 in Malaysia and Indonesia, which encourages husbands to take more than one wife to satisfy their masculine desires. .

Most importantly, these initiatives by the Global Ikhwan group seriously undermine the important gains toward gender equality in Malaysia. They signal the Malaysian government’s failure to abate the growing trend in the country towards adopting norms, rules, laws and policies that are discriminatory towards women in the name of religion (in particular Islam). These initiatives are premised on narrow interpretations of religious texts that are permeating the various social spheres, as well as decision-making levels in the country, and are barriers to women’s enjoyment of full equality in family life. Such interpretations are being legitimised by the country’s dual legal system of civil law and multiple versions of shari’a law, resulting in a continuing pattern of discrimination against women, particularly in marriage and within the family.

We call upon the Malaysian government to make an unequivocal statement against the misrepresentation of the Qu’ran and of the shari’a by radical Islamic groups. We also call on the government to commit to the principles of gender equality and justice as foundations of the country’s Muslim family laws. We also welcome any initiative by the government to initiate an open and healthy public debate on Islam and women’s rights within the family.

13 June 2011

statement of concern apmm to ASEAN130611.pdf1.06 MB