The COVID-19 pandemic has sterned the lives of everyone throughout the world. Apart from bringing a plethora of changes in terms of physical distancing and new sociological implications, the cynosure of the pandemic was the heroic role played by women health workers, especially doctors and nurses during the pandemic in a country like India. When the entire world was notified with the slogan ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe!, the health worker risked their lives by stepping out of their home in order to cure the patients. They challenged the world by playing the role of a messiah and healing the patients from the contagious disease. The task was more challenging for women health workers as they have to tackle double burden of work by being the dual earner in the family and handling the household chores after returning home.
Here are some of the challenges that the women health workers had to encounter during the pandemic:
1. Inexplicable contribution for the medical assistance of patients: As reported by Sunitha Rani who was an accredited social health activist (Asha) worker, “My days would start at 7 am, distributing supplements to pregnant women, taking them for check-ups and to give birth in hospitals, tracking their children’s weight and immunisation, even advising young wives about contraception.”(Bhandare, 2020). She even encountered the toughest phase when there was shortage of masks during the early phase of lockdown. However, she still struggled hard (being a single mother of two) in order to make the both ends meet and emerged as one of the heroic fighter who is valorised for her struggle with the virus.
2. Social stigma caused by Clinical Casteism: As reported in news channels, the neighbourhood community of some of the women health workers had ostracized them residing in their community due to the phobia of being infected by the disease. Such kind of social ignorance affected the social health of the women health workers and brings forth the issue of ‘Untouchability’ (caused by clinical casteism) and ‘social stigma. Many a times, such social stigma caused by the neighbours also induced phobia among them when they heard a health worker who used to work in the same hospital being tested positive. The situation became so gruelsome that the neighbourhood completely marginalized the women health worker from their community by discarding all forms of physical contact which affected their social relations too.
3. Impact on their self-esteem as doctors and nurses: The phobia caused by social stigma and marginalization of the women health workers from their neighbourhood community affected their self-esteem as doctors and nurses. On account of this, one of the women health workers reported, “We only want to be able to work with dignity” (Bhandare, 2020). They felt that their dignity was hampered as they were fighting a global enemy by keeping their lives at stake with little protection and no such acknowledgement of their heroic role as warriors.
4. Handling both the patients and the housework with finesse: Women health workers faced one of the most challenging phase not only due to double burden of work but also because they had to return to their homes and cleanse themselves for the fear of being in contact with an infected patient which might risk the lives of her spouse and children by spreading the disease to them. The female health workers turned themselves into an altruist where the lives of patients overpowered their own lives.
Despite facing such challenges, women health workers like doctors and nurses could cross all hurdles brought forth by the global virus and overpower it by emerging as the fighters of the decade. It is indeed a great instance of women empowerment in the present era where their immense contribution and sacrifice for the society need to be valorised and acknowledged. Thereby, such heroic deeds of female health workers also meet the theme of International Women’s Day 2021 which involves ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’. Female doctors and nurses have indeed emerged as leaders during this pandemic (even now by proving Covid vaccine to patients) which has brought forth a new meaning to the concept of gender equality.Henceforth, this Women’s Day, our university pays tribute to all the female health workers for their unputdownable efforts towards their pateints and immense contribution as frontline warriors andfor being able to overpower such a global virus, like a pro!
Bhandare, Namita, Covid-19 and the heroic role of women health workers, 21st August 2020,Covid-19 and the heroic role of women health workers | Opinion | Hindustan Times, Retrieved 28-02-2021