Home Malaysia Only 46.3% Malaysians Support Gender Equality

Only 46.3% Malaysians Support Gender Equality

Launch of a Study by Women’s Aid Organisation on Malaysian Public Attitudes and Perceptions towards Violence against Women.

by Gopal Nair
Malaysians Gender Equality

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) launches initial findings and recommendations from its report, “A Study on Malaysian Public Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Violence Against Women (VAW)” on 15th November, revealing that only half of Malaysians support gender equality (46.3%) and oppose violence-endorsing attitudes (52.7%), demonstrating that more must be done to stengthen prevention initiatives against VAW in Malaysia.

A survey involving 1,000 Malaysian respondents, this is the first large scale, nationally-representative study of attitudes and perceptions towards violence against women in Malaysia. The study explores the prevalence of violence-endorsing attitudes, namely towards domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and child marriage, as well as gender inequality.  Violence-endorsing attitudes, are loosely defined as attitudes that justify, excuse, minimise VAW, or blame survivors for the violence perpetrated against them.

Premised on the idea that violence against women is rooted in patriarchal attitudes and social norms, the study highlights specific attitudes that are concerning – including those that excuse perpetrators and hold women accountable for violence, disregard women’s right to consent, mistrust women’s reports of VAW, undermine women’s independence and decision-making in public and private spheres of life, and deny that gender inequality is a problem. 

Although survey results demonstrate that overall, Malaysians hold a good understanding of VAW in terms of what constitutes physical and non-physical forms of violence,  it also finds that:

  • More than half of Malaysians (53.3%) believe that domestic violence is a normal reaction of stress or frustration. 
  • 43.0% of respondents believe that a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he does not mean to.
  • One third (30.0%) believe that women who flirt often are to blame for causing their partners to hit them out of jealousy.
  • 26.5% of Malaysians believe that domestic violence is forgivable, if the perpetrator is so angry that they lose control.

These suggest that there are still circumstances for which VAW is acceptable – such as when perceived as an emotional gesture, or in the event the victim has behaved in a way that triggers the abuse. Malaysians also tend to underestimate the complexity of abuse, with 37.1% of the survey population believing that it is not as hard to leave an abusive relationship, and 44.9% who believe that women who stay with their abusive partners, are also responsible for the ongoing abuse.

Rape myths were also highly endorsed by the survey population – a worrying finding, as these can be understood as a reflection for support towards violent behaviours and victim-blaming practices.

  • 83.4% believe that rape happens because of men’s uncontrollable sexual desires.
  • 51.3% believe that rape happens of how women dress.

Additionally, while Malaysians were generally well-equipped to recognise non-physical forms of domestic violence when described clearly and explicitly, respondents demonstrated slightly lower knowledge towards cyber-harassment, stalking, and controlling behaviour: 

  • For example, approximately 11% of Malaysians do not consider controlling behaviour, such as preventing a partner from seeing their family or friends, and denying a woman access to finances, as a form of domestic violence.
  • Respondents’ lower levels of awareness towards non-physical violence may be due to pre-existing ideas of violence, which is more often related to physical harm (such as bruises, visible injuries, etc.). 

On a more positive note, Malaysians strongly oppose child marriage, with survey results indicating that 70.3% of respondents broadly oppose child marriage under any and all circumstances. Only approximately one tenth of Malaysians explicitly support child marriage, with the greatest support coming from older men above aged 55 years and above.

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