Subarna Ghosh’s petition to PM Modi urging him to make men share the housework is just another reminder of how lockdown has been tough on women of our patriarchal society.
Millions of women in Indian homes, where the housework was earlier delegated to the hired domestic help – parttime cooks, cleaners and nannies, are struggling. Their struggle lies in the fact that house-help can’t come to work because there is a nationwide lockdown and other family members are not ready to share the load.
With an aim to take a small step in ending this struggle, Subarna Ghosh, a mother of two, has filed a unique petition to Prime Minister Modi. In her petition, published on change.org, she mentioned:
“Does the handle of a jhadu (broom) come printed with the words: ‘to be operated by women only’? What about the manual of the washing machine or gas stove? Then why is it that most men are not doing their share of housework!”
In her interview with BBC, Subarna also shared how the petition came out of life experiences of her own and also of lots of women around her. Tired of doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry while trying to work from home, Subarna wants the prime minister to address the issue of gender equality in the next speech. Focusing on gender unpaid care work of women in homes, she further adds:
“Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance.
Ms. Ghosh lives with a banker husband and two kids. She runs a charity that works on reproductive justice and said the expectation that she would be the one to compromise on work was much higher during the lockdown. Sharing her own personal experience about the unfair share of workload she told BBC:
“My work suffered, at least in April, the first month of the lockdown. I was exhausted all the time, I was tired every day. Our family dynamics changed. I definitely complained a lot. And when I complained people said, ‘Then don’t do it’.”
Ms. Ghosh took their advice. She didn’t do any dishes or fold any clothes for three days. While sharing the result, she mentioned:
“The sink was overflowing with unwashed dishes and the pile of laundry grew bigger and bigger,”
It was then her husband and kids realized how upset she was and they cleaned up the mess.
“My husband has started helping me with chores. He understood I was very affected by it, that it was bothering me a lot. But our men are also victims of this culture and society. They have not been trained to do housework. They require a little bit of hand-holding.”
It is heartbreaking how our patriarchal society grooms girls to be perfect homemakers and often assumes it is only women’s responsibility to do all the housework. For those who have a career, they would just have to do “double duty” – manage both home and work. Many women in her neighborhood were equally frustrated with housework, but they found the idea of husbands helping them found ridiculous.
“Many asked me, ‘How can he cook or clean?’ Many, in fact, praised their husbands for being easygoing. They’d say, ‘He’s very nice, whatever I cook he eats without complaining’.”
When Subarna told her husband that she was starting a petition he was “very supportive”. Though his friends tried to make fun of him:
“His friends made fun of him. They asked him, ‘Why didn’t you just do some housework? Look, now your wife has gone and petitioned Modi!’ “He took it on the chin and told them, ‘Because more men listen to Mr Modi than their own wives’.”
Subarna’s petition was also criticized by a lot of people on social media. Many chided her for bothering the prime minister with “a frivolous matter”. Some wrote to her saying that it is Indian women’s responsibility to take care of their housework.
As per petition to focus on gender inequality in marriages, she adds:
“If Mr Modi can inspire us to light lamps and clap in solidarity, he can inspire us to correct an unfair norm that discriminates against women in every home.”
Sharing her hopefulness about PM Modi will speak about gender equality in his next speech, she mentioned:
“Mr Modi has a huge support base among women, so he should talk about an issue that’s important to women. When the rainy season started, he talked about cough and cold, so why can’t he talk about gender equality?”
At IFORHER, we believe her petition captures the pain of many Indian women, who are struggling to manage various household responsibilities all alone. It is high time that we as a country start promoting gender equality in marriage and share the load.
In case you want to sign her petition, then you can click here.