Today is the International Women’s Day. The day aims to create a gender just world. It talks about celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality.
Let us talk about healthcare. Can we really achieve gender equal healthcare services without paying attention to frontline female workers’ needs?
We often talk about gender equal corporate boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage. Frontline female workers shoulder lot of responsibilities, especially works related to women and children. But we don’t care about their needs. In an emergency situation, frontline female health workers’ basic hygiene related needs are overlooked. On the frontline of fight against any epidemic or medical emergency, women health workers also have to deal with menstruation, a need that is being overlooked.
How often do we talk about this?
This is an important question as China’s fight against the coronavirus epidemic has triggered anger over the neglect of frontline female workers who have struggled to access menstrual products, battled with ill-fitting equipment and had their heads shaved. Reports that some medical staff were given birth control pills in order to delay their periods have also prompted outrage.
As the world marks International Women’s Day, women in China have rallied against measures they deem discriminatory as the government races to contain the crisis, which has disrupted the lives of tens of millions of people under lockdown in central Hubei province, the virus epicentre.
Shanghai resident Jiang Jinjing became concerned about how female medical workers were dealing with their periods, after workers spoke out about avoiding using the toilet to conserve their protective suits. The 24-year-old asked about the issue on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, and received thousands of comments, including urgent anonymous appeals from women in Hubei.
“Many female medical workers sent messages, saying their periods were really causing a lot of trouble,” said Jiang, who launched a donation drive of sanitary products. “Can’t even eat or drink all day while wearing the isolation suit, let alone change sanitary napkins,” one told her.
Her efforts galvanized individuals and companies to send more than 600,000 sanitary pads and period-proof underwear, which can be worn for longer, to frontline workers. China ordered fast-track routes for emergency supplies entering Hubei province — but sanitary products weren’t initially considered necessities.
- Some hospital officials have turned the donations away, because they didn’t have sufficient awareness of this issue.
- The leaders are all male comrades.
- While the provincial leaders are overwhelmingly male, women account for the majority of nurses and doctors on the frontline.
Portrayal of Women Fighting the Virus Invites Criticism
The portrayal of women fighting the virus has prompted a rare wave of criticism. A Shanghai-based hospital praised the “woman warriors” and announced to donate 200 bottles of pills to “postpone female team members’ ‘unspeakable’ special periods.”
This invited widespread criticism. However, the hospital later defended itself, saying the women took the medication voluntarily.
Here are what users of social media told the hospital:
- In order to avoid providing sanitary pads, you have created this kind of volunteering!”
- Of course they would rather take progesterone than stain their protective suits with blood.
Propaganda videos of female medical workers having their heads shaved — supposedly to improve hygiene — have also backfired.
It was criticized for using women’s bodies as tools for propaganda. A social media post from state broadcaster CCTV which described unnamed workers posing in oversized hazmat suits as “cute” drew similar ire. Weibo users pointed out that they were likely to be female workers given the ill-fitting suits.
Thanks to social media, women are more vocal and expressive about the issues concerning them. This is why authority was forced to apologize or take back the offensive steps in many cases. Certainly, public awareness of gender equality has grown. But stereotypes and propaganda still remain.
Women should never be portrayed as “recipients of help, or as “’long-suffering caregivers. This kind of propaganda only strengthens gender stereotypes.”