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The Women Facing Coronavirus

Myriam Sweidan
Lebanese Journalist
June 26, 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic has shed light on some professions that were affected by the pandemic more than others, in which women occupy the largest proportion of workers despite the low salaries and the inadequate appreciation they receive.

The effect of the coronavirus on men is different from its effect on women, not just in terms of its symptoms, but also in terms of its economic opportunities and long-term health consequences; in general, economic recessions are usually heavier on men in terms of unemployment rates. This time around the equation was affected by several varied factors: first, the nature of the employee’s role. According to a study prepared by Michelle Tirtelt, an economist at the University of Mannheim in Germany, the largest portion of the employees who can go on with their tasks from home are males, while females find it difficult to do so most of the time. Tirtlet attributes this to the fact that many women occupy work spaces in restaurants, the travel sector, and medicinal sectors which increases their risk of infection.

“Daraj” has interviewed three women who have been working in medically and psychologically stressful circumstances amid this pandemic, and this is what they said.

Hadeel Farfour: A Journalist on the Frontline

“I can’t forget the fear we, journalists, felt that day, although we knew that the emergency entrance was different from the entrance dedicated for journalists. The irony was that I forgot about everything I knew about the virus and how it is transmitted. I was seized by fear just for being in that place: Rafik Hariri Public Hospital, the pandemic’s main center in Lebanon,” explains journalist Hadeel Farfour commenting on her visit to one of the hospitals at the height of the spread of the pandemic, to cover a press conference in which the first death from the virus was announced.

Journalist Hadeel Farfour

Hadeel is an editor in the non-political localities division of the Lebanese newspaper “Al-Akhbar”. The largest part of her work during the past months was dedicated to the “Coronavirus”, and this has been exhausting, both physically and psychologically.

During this period, Hadeel worked from home to cover all “Coronavirus” news in Lebanon and the world. From her point of view, working remotely was not compatible with her journalism profession, because interviewing sources is a necessity of journalistic work, one that cannot simply be replaced by a telephone call or even a video call interview.

“I believe I can get more information from the source when we meet face to face,” Hadeel explains. She tells Daraj that the direct examination of locations is also a lot different from the virtual examination of them. “Seeing how doctors practice their work inside the Coronavirus division and examining their work conditions would give the journalistic product life in a special way.”

“The irony was that I forgot about everything I knew about the virus and how it is transmitted. I was seized by fear just for being in that place: Rafik Hariri Public Hospital, the pandemic’s main center in Lebanon.”

In a parallel context, the workload has increased on the backs of female journalists rather than male journalists in matters of assigning tasks that have to do with mothers and the difficulty of deviating from the social norms that may prevent some of them from performing their tasks. Noting that, according to Jad Shahrour the media official at the Samir Kassir foundation, there are no official figures in Lebanon about the number of male journalists compared to the female journalists. “For example, the Syndicate of Editors in Lebanon has not updated its spreadsheets for years and many of the names on the delisting sheets are not real which we verified with the organization,” explains Shahrour. This is apart from the fact that most journalists are not registered in the syndicate or work freely or as freelancers.

Hadeel notes that the daily monitoring of the Coronavirus counter and the constant search for new angles has put a major strain on her psychological health, especially since the issue seems to be running in a semi-random manner in Lebanon, and even in the whole world, and the Ministry of Health has no clear plan. This is apart from being forced to be far away from her family, because Hadeel’s fear for her mother, who suffers from a chronic disease, has pushed her to keep herself in self-quarantine after every visit to the hospital.

“I have become more cautious in dealing with medical information in order to not publish anything that would cause people to panic,” says Farfour commenting on her new journalistic experience, and confirming that she “no longer observes things from a journalist’s point of view”.

Layal Olaiwan: A Doctor Facing the Monster

“I never regretted volunteering in the “Coronavirus” division. I fell in love with my profession after I lived through this experience” says Layal Olaiwan, a Lebanese doctor who works at the Rafik Hariri hospital in Beirut.

Layal told Daraj about how she volunteered in a dedicated division to cure the cases since day 1 when the virus started to spread in Lebanon. She believes that the mission of the medical profession manifests itself in such crises. However, she didn’t deny the fear she had through the first phase with all the unknowns, despite the expensive training courses she had with a full team of doctors and nurses on how to deal with the infected cases or the suspected ones.

Doctor Layal Olaiwan

In an American study published in the journal entitled “Gamma Internal Medicine”, researchers say that women who work in the medical profession are more than men. Women constitute one-third of the total number of doctors in the United States. The study also revealed that there are differences between how male and female doctors deal with patients, especially in terms of their patients listening to them, which increases the impact of the psychological pressure on women.

In this context, Layal says: “My biggest fear is my family.. I stopped seeing them for many weeks, and now I see them from a distance and I keep a safe distance between us. I spend most of the time lying down in a room, feeling the need to hug and kiss them, but a stronger force is holding me back..”

“I never regretted volunteering in the “Coronavirus” division. I fell in love with my profession after I lived through this experience”

Layal has gone through many hard moments in the most dangerous and fearful place.. she says that many have been stigmatized with the disease because of their profession. People now refuse to approach them in fear of being infected with the virus.

This is in addition to the uncomfortable situations they lived through when they had to inform the families of those infected about the death of the patient, witnessing those families suffer, not being able to get even a last goodbye kiss. “However when infected cases are healed, they give us hope to go on,” Layal adds.

Wessam Zaatari: Flying with “Coronavirus”

“The plane is quiet, pregnant women are seized by fear, mothers holding their newborn children waiting to reach their homeland, and children eager for the plane to land,” This is how Wessam Zaatari, a flight attendant for Middle East Airlines, described the scene on the extraordinary return flights from endemic countries to Lebanon.

Wessam described the sensitivity of her work as a flight attendant. Still, she affirmed that she followed all the safety precautions, such as wearing a protective suit and so on after she and the staff had intensive training and awareness courses.

Flight Attendant Wessam Zaatari

“My family members didn’t treat me as someone who threatens their safety, which made me happy and encouraged me to practice my work actively and enthusiastically,” Wessam added, explaining that this experience, which is has been the worst thing to hit the airlines sector since the SARS crisis or even the September 11 2001 attacks, made her more proud of her profession.

Flight attendants are subjected to social pressure and stigmatization because of the profession that gives them the freedom to travel and move, and the situation became more complicated after Coronavirus.

However, Wessam confirms her love for this profession and says, “The happiness of the children when the plane lands and they go back to their homes is unforgettable. I felt like they needed us to come and accompany them, I helped people to return to their homes and brought others together with their families. There are sacrifices and challenges in every profession, and this is my profession which I love.”

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