Kerala has a long list of female political leaders who have and are remarkably contributing towards the growth of the state — R Gowri Amma, Accamma Cherian, KO Aysha Bai, Susheela Gopalan and KK Shailaja, among others. They have held important positions in their parties and the cabinet. Kerala, however, has never seen a female Chief Minister yet. “But the Chief Minister post should not be seen as a reserved seat for women. ‘If a man can be a CM in one term, why can’t a woman be the next CM?’, that narrative is not the essence of feminism and women’s reservation,” argues Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja.
Fondly called Shailaja teacher, the Minister became a global face during the pandemic, for her leadership skill in steering Kerala from the adverse impact of COVID-19. On multiple occasions, her male counterparts in the opposition have hurled snarky and sexist remarks at her when the world appreciated her efforts. “It is how a woman gets the job done when she is entrusted with a responsibility, be it in any position, that matters,” said Shailaja.
Speaking to TNM, she explains why she felt it is not always necessary that a woman should hold the CM position to effect a change. “We cannot say that because a woman becomes the CM, women's liberation or freedom is guaranteed, but that is not impossible either,” she says.
“Kerala has thousands of female leaders who have proved their mettle. At the local body-level alone, several women have shown their strength,” she says.
KK Shailaja, however, adds that a woman leader’s growth should not be gradual, that is, from a panchayat president to the MLA to an MP and then as the Chief Minister. “A woman should show her strength and vigour wherever she gets the opportunity,” she says, adding, “I do not claim that my achievements happened because I am a woman. I fulfilled my duties and responsibilities like my male colleagues.”
According to the CPI(M) leader, even if a woman is a local panchayat member, how she utilises her position, her decision-making power and how she intervenes during a crisis are all it takes to show that women are equally capable or are equal to men.
“Only one person can become the Chief Minister. If there is a situation where there is only one woman in a group who can or is capable of leading the rest, she will step in as the CM. Here, in Kerala, at present, we have Pinarayi Vijayan, and so, the question of a female CM is not relevant. He led the state through the pandemic and other challenges. He has bold decision-making power and is capable of protecting the people of Kerala,” she adds.
KK Shailaja, the sitting MLA of Kuthuparamba constituency in Kannur, will contest from Mattanur Assembly constituency in the same district.
Watch: KK Shailaja's full interview with TNM