Kerala CM's appeal to men to 'help' women in chores triggers debate on gender roles

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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's statement that men should help women in household chores during lockdown has triggered a debate with many welcoming it while some find it to be reinstatement of the patriarchal construct of gender roles.

"Men should do a bit to help women in household chores during lockdown. It would help maintain peace at homes," the chief minister told media on Tuesday during his daily briefing about the coronavirus situation in the state.

While nobody can doubt the chief minister's intention, his choice of words provoked a section of women, who created a storm on social media. They argue that urging men to "help" women in kitchen reasserts the notion that women are supposed to do all household chores. Men don't have to help, but share the works in a family, they say.

Journalist Shahina Nafeesa was among those who found Pinarayi's statement regressive. "The chief minister's statement that men should help women in household works is boring," she wrote on Facebook, triggering a heated debate.

Some defended the CM, saying the statement showed his concern for women. But Shahina retorted that the remark was highly misogynistic. She also opposed the view that the CM's words should be treated as a beginning of a new change. "Doomsday is here, and it's no time for women to hail the beginning," she wrote.

She raised a counter question to drive home her point: "Why is it that men have to help women in household works? Can't it be the other way round? Wouldn't it do well if women help men a little bit in such works."

Joining the social media debate was Nadeera AP, "So the CM also thinks that these are only women's jobs and that they deserve some outside help when it is necessary."

Many shared this argument.

J Devika of Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, however, had a different viewpoint. She appreciated the CM's statement and expressed wonder over a politician making such a comment.

"We are sure that family or a house has to be run by men, women and children together. But at present, there's no such situation in Kerala. Here, women have to do everything. In this scenario, the minimum a man can do is to help woman in all works," said Devika, a prominent voice of gender rights in Kerala.

She also cited Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik's appeal to the men in his state not to overburden the women by asking them to prepare food multiple times during lockdown.

"We are treating the lockdown as a festival. Whenever there's a celebration in a house, the works of women increase manifold," she said.

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