Despite increased responsibilities and obstacles, women overcome the crises brought on by the pandemic on a daily basis
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how the existing social structure still hurts women. Domestic violence was off the charts, child marriage increased significantly, many girls are on the verge of dropping out of school, and women are overburdened with both housework and office work.
The global health crisis cast a dark shadow over women’s rights.
Despite all these, women at home and workplaces have shown their strength and resilience in fighting off the crises brought on by the pandemic.
This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.” Women’s leadership skills have played a crucial part in tackling different issues during this global crisis.
Dhaka Tribune talked to a few of these women about how they found the strength and courage to work for a better future in the middle of a pandemic.
Taking the helm
Farjana Jabin Purobi gave birth only six months before Covid-19 broke out in Bangladesh. Devastated after losing her firstborn, she was doubly ecstatic when she welcomed her daughter.
But then the pandemic hit the country, and her husband lost his job. He did not have any savings to support the family.
Farjana stepped up and started a baby food delivery business from home, after receiving good feedback from her friends who tried her baby food items.
“This business has given me the chance to continue living in this city [Dhaka]. I didn't have to go back to my village, like many others did. At the same time, I established myself as a successful entrepreneur in this difficult time,” she told Dhaka Tribune.
Farjana now dispatches around 10 to 15 packages for delivery every day.
Frontliner at work, frontliner at home
Shohida Khatun Shikha, a 32-year-old nurse at Kurmitola General Hospital, is a nursing mother as well. She is a front-line worker, both at home and at the hospital. Alongside treating Covid-19 patients at the hospital, she also made sure her family was safe and healthy.
“I still nurse my baby with my mask on. At the beginning [of the pandemic], I was emotionally and physically drained, but now I feel like if I don’t do my job right, many patients who are not allowed to see their family will be deprived of the care they need,” she told Dhaka Tribune.
Dr Amina Sultana, in-charge of the Covid-19 ICU at United Hospital, has a similar story.
“This pandemic pushed me to give my extreme best under pressure. I kept moving forward because there was no point in stepping back; Covid-19 will chase you everywhere, so it’s better to die in the battlefield like a warrior, rather than hiding in your comfort zone and waiting for your turn,” she told Dhaka Tribune.
‘It felt like I am in a warzone’
Bangladesh Pratidin photojournalist Joyeeta Roy is one of the few female photojournalists working in different national media in Bangladesh.
Working as a photojournalist for 12 years, Joyeeta did not stay back when the pandemic hit Bangladesh. It was not possible for journalists to stay home during this crisis, as they had to put the stories out in the world.
“I saw people crying on the road. I saw many people rushing towards a car when it stopped, hoping for some food. I didn't stop taking pictures even though I had to go through a lot of trouble.
“I have seen people go through grief, death and recovery through my lens,” Joyeeta said, recalling the early days of the nationwide lockdown.
While the demand for hospital photos continued to grow, like her male colleagues, she went to the Covid-19 units at different hospitals. She had to take pictures and interview patients, to show the world the Covid-19 situation through her lens.
“I disinfect my camera, phone and my scooter all the time so that my family remains safe. I live in a joint family and do not want to put them in danger,” she added.
Maintaining law and order
Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police Farhana Yasmin Flora was in charge of police training at the Police Headquarters when the country was preparing for a lockdown. She trained many police officers who were working in the field every day to control the Covid-19 situation.
She was not as worried about herself as she was for her cancer-ridden mother and elderly father.
In April 2020, Flora was infected with Covid-19 and admitted in the hospital for 33 days. Her oxygen level dropped and health deteriorated, but she survived Covid-19 and went back to work.
She is now working at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office in Narsingdi.
“It was a new disease for everyone around the world. When the fear spread around, we were there to provide safety and security when the roads were deserted,” Flora told Dhaka Tribune.
She thinks the duty of a police officer should not be categorized in the context of gender, because all the police officers are doing their jobs with the same efficiency to maintain law and order in the time of pandemic.
Lesson learned from the pandemic
Khushi Kabir, coordinator of NGO Nijera Kori, told Dhaka Tribune that women showed tremendous strength in this pandemic.
“It is high time women’s contribution to society is valued. Their contribution was crucial long before the pandemic,” she added.
She also pointed out that although child marriage was on the rise during the pandemic, a significant number of girls resisted and sought help by calling 999.
Every crisis brings opportunity. Many organizations made the abrupt shift to working from home when the lockdown started in April.
Working from home was extra challenging for women since they were overburdened with housework, office work and family responsibilities while working from home.
However, women rights activist and Bangladesh Mahila Parishad General Secretary Maleka Banu thinks this pandemic has taught employers that many workplaces can function remotely, and therefore women should be given that choice to work from home even when the pandemic is over.
“Lack of daycare facilities is one of the major reasons why many women quit their job. If they get an opportunity to work from home, they can look after their children without quitting their job. This pandemic has taught us that it is feasible,” she added.