Abu Dhabi: Traditionally held gender roles have been shifting for decades now, with women and men beating stereotypes and taking on each oher’s responsibilities. The coronavirus outbreak has taken this culture a notch higher. Employed professionals have had to bring their work home indefinitely, and with children undertaking distance learning, old-fashioned gender roles and tasks have blurred to a great degree.
“The lockdown forced a change in everyone’s lives. For us, the fact that my husband and I split the childcare and household tasks was only a boon,” Dalia Hijjawi, 32, a Jordanian accounts officer, told Gulf News.
“Because my husband and I were both working from home, we had to try and create a work-like atmosphere. But apart from that, my husband continued to tend to our three-year-old, and helped regularly with our cooking, while I looked after our three-month-old,” she added.
Cooking no longer a woman’s job
In fact, many men in the UAE seem to take an active role in food preparation – a task that was largely relegated to women in the past.
“My husband, Jean-Sebastien Berland, works on his computer most part of the day. I work downstairs in my studio. But he is always around to help me with things like gardening, children’s home-work and even cooking. We have a domestic help in the house but we don’t leave everything for her to do,” said Gaelin Gray, a silversmith from South Africa who works from home.
Gray said things have definitely changed further during the pandemic.
“Earlier, it was mostly my maid and myself taking care of the house work, as my husband, Jean-Sebastien, would travel on work. Now that this has reduced, he helps a lot at home. On weekends, he cooks for us, and I take over on the weekdays. Otherwise, my husband helps our children in their home-work, since my husband is French and my children study in a French school. He also does quite a bit of cleaning in the house as he is particular about cleanliness around the house,” she added.
Saleem Parker, 50, another South African expat, said he has always loved to cook, and continues to do so. In fact, he has taken his passion for cooking up a notch during the lockdown, starting his own eponymous YouTube channel with the help of his 16-year-old son.
Women as full-time workers
“My wife works full-time in the healthcare sector, and the COVID-19 outbreak has made her even busier. So I have taken over the grocery shopping, which she would earlier do on her own. In addition, I have always been hands-on when it comes to the care of our 17-year-old daughter, who has Down Syndrome. In fact, I prefer to cook and feed her breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day,” Parker said.
A departure from the past
“Decades ago, men in South Africa were very chauvinistic. I remember, my father would never fill up his own coffee mug. He would ask my mother to do it. I remember popping in one day at their house. He had a meeting with some business people and wanted to serve coffee for them. My mother was not at home. The only thing he found was the milk, not the coffee, sugar, or even the mug. My father was proud of the fact that he could not change a nappy,” Gray remembered.
Teaching children independence
Families also adopt a shared routine of household tasks to help children develop life skills.
Ritu Puri Bhargava, an Indian mother-of-two and part-time corporate professional, said her family stayed home all the time from March until mid-July.
“Cooking and baking was a major part of our daily routine as we were not doing takeaways. And even though we have full-time house help, my husband and I have ensured our children don’t become too dependent on her. My older son, Kris, will be going away to university and will study abroad. I am trying to make him independent and prepare him for the future. So we have been teaching them to be as independent as possible. For example, the children help lay the table, clear the table after the meals, make their beds and keep their rooms clean. They have been making their own breakfast every morning too,” Bhargava said.
Men pitching in all the way
She added that her husband, Anoop, also pitches in around the house, putting away clothes and unloading the dishwasher every day. In fact, the sharing of chores helps Bhargava find time for her fitness activities, including daily biking, tennis and badminton.
“I strongly believe that in any household, every family member should contribute. Doing house-hold chores should not be gender specific,” Anoop added.
Pakistani expat, Erum Suleman, 45, who works as supply chain leader for a logistics company, said her husband Tabrez Karim, 48, helps her with online grocery shopping. Karim, who is in a senior position for a construction company, said he likes to be around for his wife when she needs help in the house.
“I will be honest her. that it is not much trouble working and managing the home. We have a male help for my father-in-law, and a lot of the gardening work and car cleaning is done by him. But my husband enjoys buying groceries online or making quick visits to the super market. That is a big help too,” Suleman said.