The female brigade

THE WEEK|May 31, 2020

The female brigade
Kerala’s Covid-19 story is one of women power unleashed and the price they pay for it

THE GUARDIAN newspaper recently called Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja the “coronavirus slayer” for “saving” the state from Covid-19. The interviewer, Laura Spinney, who has written a well-received book on how the Spanish Flu changed the world, referred to Shailaja as a “rock star”. As the story went viral across the world, Shailaja Teacher, as she is popularly known, managed to visit her home in Kannur for a day. She was meeting her husband and children for the first time in three months.

Shailaja is leading thousands of women who are fighting the virus in various capacities. Kerala’s Covid-19 story, which is an ideal case of humanitarian politics, is also the story of its unleashed women power. Dr B. Iqbal, who chairs the expert committee on Covid-19 that advises the state government, told THE WEEK that this is a unique aspect of Kerala’s successful resistance against the virus. “From our health minister to the ASHA workers (accredited social health activists) on the ground, they are the frontal warriors in this fight,” he said.

Apart from the health minister, both the director of health services (DHS) and the director of medical education (DME) are women. Out of 14 district medical officers (DMOs) in the state, 11 are women. Female doctors in the state health services outnumber the men (65:35) and this has been the trend for nearly two decades. Similarly, the number of female medical students in the state is more than double the number of male students. When it comes to nurses and paramedics, there is total domination by women. All of them have joined hands in the fight against Covid-19. .

“We are the ‘penpada’ (women army) of the state government,” said DME Dr Remla Beevi A. “What we are seeing is the display of women power in its best form.” She heads the Covid Cell that monitors and guides all activities in the state’s nine government medical colleges. All the members in the Covid Cell, barring one, are women.

DHS Dr Saritha R.L., who did an exemplary job in fighting the 2018 Nipah outbreak, has followed that up with the fight against Covid-19. “It has been a tough ride,” said Saritha, who has not visited her family in Kozhikode for three months. “But what I am doing is my duty as a doctor and as DHS. I do not think about my gender while taking up responsibilities.”


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May 31, 2020