Outrage as 'Obedient Wives Club' spreads across south-east Asia

Publication Date: 
July 6, 2011
The Guardian
Malaysian Muslim Ishak Md Nor and his two wives, Aishah Abdul Ghafar, left, and Afiratul Abidah Mohd Hanan, members of the 'OWC'

A women's group that aims to teach Muslim wives how to "keep their spouses happy in the bedroom" is taking root in south-east Asia, prompting outrage from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The Obedient Wives Club (OWC), which has chapters in Malaysia, Indonesia and and intends to open in London and Paris later this year, says it intends to curb various social problems, including prostitution and gambling, by showing Muslim wives how to "be submissive and keep their spouses happy in the bedroom". This, in turn, would lead to more harmonious marriages and societies, it says.

"In , if the husband wants sex and the wife is not in the mood, she has to give in to him," the Singapore club's co-founder Darlan Zaini said recently. "If not, the angels will curse her. This is not good for the family."

The OWC, which launched in Jordan this year, opened a branch in Malaysia last month and in Indonesia last week. In Malaysia, it caused a furore when its international vice-president, Rohaya Mohamad, declared that, by becoming a "good whore … to your husband" and serving him "better than a first-class prostitute", women could help "curb social ills like prostitution, domestic violence, human trafficking and abandoned babies" – all of which she attributed to unfulfilled sexual needs.

In Singapore, however, where a hodgepodge mix of ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian residents actively aim to maintain what the nation's "founder", Lee Kuan Yew, has termed "racial harmony", supporters are hard to come by.

"It'll never work here," said 43-year-old technician Ramli bin Katyo. "Wives already know what to do to make husbands happy – and husbands, wives. They don't need classes."

Facebook groups, such as the Say No to the Obedient Wives Club in Singapore coalition, stress that "women are equal to men and we, in Singapore, should keep it that way".

Local rights organisations, such as Aware (the Association of Women for Action and Research), have also expressed dismay at the OWC's seemingly regressive stance on women's rights. "What the club signifies is a regression, a moving backwards, in [what] women and other progressive men – Muslim and non-Muslim – are trying to do for gender equality here in Singapore," said its vice president Halijah Mohamed.

A recent gay and lesbian-friendly event called Pink Dot, attended by 10,000-odd supporters – many of them openly gay Muslim men and women dressed in pink hijabs – demonstrated the progressiveness of much of Singaporean society.

Even the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore denounced the club's views as myopic, and said in a statement: "Happiness in a marriage goes beyond receiving sexual fulfilment from one's wife."

Defending the OWC's controversial stance, Fauziah Ariffin, the Malaysian chapter's national director, said: "When we said that husbands should treat their wives like first-class prostitutes, we were not putting wives on the same level with prostitutes."

"We are talking about first-class elite types, not street hooker types … Ordinary prostitutes can only provide good sex, but not love and affection, which only a wife can provide," she told the Malay Mail.

"If we provide our husbands [with] more than a prostitute can give, then he will not go out looking for it."

But the Malaysian women's minister, Robia Kosai, dismissed the OWC's views as "nonsense", and said the club was "not welcome" in the state she represents, Johor, which borders Singapore. "Divorce – and other social ills – won't stop just because the wife is good in bed," she said. "Research shows that divorce in Malaysia is primarily due to economic factors, not because a wife hasn't been 'obedient' to her husband."

But with members already numbering some 1,000 worldwide, the OWC – whose umbrella organisation, Global Ikhwan, also started a polygamy group two years ago – aims to launch branches in London, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt in the near future.

As for the tenuous future of the OWC in Singapore, the club may very well have to open under a different moniker. "OWC is too controversial," Zaini was quoted as saying. "We can use a simpler name like 'Happy Family' or something."

Photo: AP