Fighting on the Frontlines: Women Politicians and Journalists share their COVID-19 and Polio campaign stories with GNMI

Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovation (GNMI) invited women politicians and journalists from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to tell their COVID stories in a webinar with public. The webinar went live on official page of GNMI with the title ‘Women on the Frontlines of Polio Eradication & Covid-19 Response’. Founder and president of GNMI Najia Ashar hosted the live session. Among the panelists, there were parliamentary secretary health of Balochistan Dr Rubaba Buledi, member of Provincial Assembly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ayesha Bano, Journalists Farzana Ali and Bushra Qamar.

Najia Ashar started the webinar with a brief highlight of the role women from the two provinces played during the first wave of COVID-19 in Pakistan followed by the introduction of the panelists. She told the panel that women make seventy per cent of the health care personnel in Pakistan. They had been fighting on the frontline as the whole country was dealing with the health crisis with limited resources. She asked Dr Buledi about the efforts of health department for their safety and wellbeing at work.

Dr Buledi said that there were more women health practitioners, nursing staffs, and paramedics in Balochistan than before. These women had been working day and night in hospitals guiding people and saving lives.

“We would not have been able to control the pandemic without the efforts of health care workers,” she said. “Not only doctors and nurses, but also lady health workers showed a lot of courage during the pandemic. They had been fighting at the core level of the society against the virus. It was their efforts that helped us during this tough time.”

She also said that the provincial government was involving more women in decision making processes than before. She further discussed shadow pandemic, a term introduced by the United Nations to highlight the rise in domestic abuse after the COVID-19 outbreak. Though men are also subject to domestic abuse mainly, it is targeted on women.

Farzana Ali who was working with her team during the pandemic telling stories of people through her show said the real challenge was to change the attitude of people towards the pandemic.

“The government was taking new decision every other day amid the situation, but there was a lack of effectiveness of those decisions on the community level,” she said. “Today, when I went hospital in the day I saw whole staff without masks. I also heard someone saying that COVID-19 was a conspiracy theory. We need to change this perception of diseases on the community level.”

She also mentioned that several journalists from Balochistan including her made reports on the poor conditions of hospitals during the pandemic showing how doctors and nurses were not following SOPS. They pressurized the government through their work to introduce strict policies for hospitals as per international standards.

Bushra Qamar, who was reporting from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the pandemic, told the panel how she and her colleagues learnt to report safely during the pandemic.

‘My channel told reporters to wear masks, gloves and cap on duty. They would decline any report in which the reporter had not been wearing a mask on his face.”

Her channel also provided sanitizers, masks and protective gears to all employees. The next challenge for her was to collect stories from the field. She said people needed information the most at that time. Realizing the heavy responsibility towards the country she would go out every day in the field wearing mask and other protective gears to report new happenings so people can stay informed and healthy. 

Despite little progress, women in Balochistan, and KP are still a very long way from equality, especially in politics and media fraternity. Farzana Ali said that being a woman, she had the opportunity to get stories from the general public, specifically women who stay at home and do not open up with ease. She used her storytelling skills to get their stories and share them with the public. She also worked closely with polio workers who had been doing their duties regardless of the pandemic.

The panel demanded the government to involve women in decision-making processes and to give them equal recognition at every platform. They also urged the government to prepare well ahead for defusing the effects of any calamities, plagues, and pandemics.

The full video of the webinar could be accessed here

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