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New Normal, Old Gender Norms in the Time of Coronavirus

If your spouse does something that displeases you, don’t nag him. Use humour and tell him “this is the way you hang the clothes, my darling” (and use a Doraemon-like voice and [coyly] giggle).

Doraemon, a blue robotic cat familiar to fans of Japanese manga, strikes an incongruous character in mainstream Malaysian cultural landscape. Even more dissonant is the above advice by Malaysia’s Ministry of Women and Family Development to wives on how to maintain harmonious homes with their house chores-shirking husbands. The dissonance caused an immediate backlash. Feminists slammed the advice as “sexist”. It infantilises women. It reinforces gender stereotypes where women not only bear the disproportionate burden of housework but also harm mitigation that would otherwise escalate to domestic violence, and has. The Ministry hastily removed the posters designed as their #wanitacegahcovid19 (women prevent Covid-19) campaign and apologised for offending “the sensitivities of certain groups”. [1]

Their next release a week later, was a video on Facebook on “how to ease tensions and avoid violence in the family” – exacerbated since the nation’s partial lockdown six weeks ago – with tips such as: “being appreciative, showing forgiveness and being religious (e.g. performing ablutions)”.[2]

This may be our new normal but old gender norms prevail that are merely amplified in the time of coronavirus. The spike in domestic violence globally is an index of hardened systemic gender inequalities beyond the familial institution that many put up with and many more do not question. The “superwoman complex”[3] that women take on mostly out of necessity is now rebranded as a “coronavirus triple duty” as women work, parent and teach from home.[4]  The routinisation of women’s labour in the home, particularly unpaid care work is now compounded with overstretched health systems, home quarantines and lockdowns which women perform more than “three-times as much as men”, according to the international Labour Organization.[5] The feminisation of women’s care giving labour now becomes a matter of life and death as women comprise “the majority of health and social care workers, and are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19” – often with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment. Yet they remain under-represented at decision-making levels on health matters. And women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights continue to be devalued as “non-essential”, e.g. maternal health, menstrual hygiene products, access to contraceptives and abortion services.[6]

“In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: ‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21)”, thus prays Pope Francis in his Urbi et orbi address.[7]  And he continues, “How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility”. Extolling the virtues of patience in being slow to anger and quick to forgiving one’s ‘enemy’ even if it takes the general shape and form of one’s aggressor, is consonant with the ethics of care and compassion that lie at the heart of our Christian faith and praxis. That we may recognise that we are “one” can only come after we have exercised a “shared responsibility” in calling to question discriminatory and harmful practices that rupture this oneness not only among the faithful but also those outside “our common home” – the least, the lost and the last among us. Oneness may not always be reducible to the principle of equality but it should start off with it. For to embrace the cross, as Christ’s Easter people means, “finding the courage… to allow new forms of hospitality” and creating new spaces for the flourishing of ecological and gender justice.



[1] The Star (2020, March 31). Women, Family Development Ministry apologises for ‘Doraemon’ posters. The Star Online. Retrieved from

[2] The Star (2020, April 11). MAC youth criticizes Siti Zailah for domestic abuse video. The Star Online. Retrieved from

[3] Lee, Y.-J. (2000). Consumer culture and gender identity in South Korea. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies6(4), 24.

[4] Noguchi, Yoki (2020, March 17). Coronavirus triple duty: Working, parenting, and teaching from home. NPR. .Retrieved from

[5] Hutt, R. (2020, March 12). The coronavirus fallout may be worse for women than men. Here’s why. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from

[6] Women Around the World and Women and Foreign Policy Program. (2020, April 10). Women this week: The gendered effects of Covid-19. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

[7] Vatican News. (2020, March 27). Pope at Urbi et orbi: Full text of his meditation. Vatican News. Retrieved from