Women are super humans! They efficiently juggle between raising children, domestic duties, earning bread, and manage to do it all effortlessly. We witness women rising to top offices—take Leela Nair as CHRO of ULE and Geeta Gopinath as Chief Economist of the IMF examples—and also becoming the sarpanch in village panchayats. Although, the potential in the middle rung still remains latent. It has long been an obligation for women to give up their dreams in the interests of their families. And it should come as no surprise to the reader that half of our population does not get ample representation in the working force. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2019-20 finds out that the proportion of women in the overall labour force has dropped down to a meagre 20.7%.
In a bid to counter this disproportion, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot recently announced the launch of a ‘Back to Work’ scheme on 30 November, during the discussion on the Finance and Appropriation Bill for the Budget 2021-22. The policy attempts to bring back into the workforce the women who have had to quit their jobs in the past due to personal or family obligations. A three-year target of providing 15,000 regular/work-from-home jobs with the assistance of the private sector has been set, wherein priority will be accorded to women who have been abandoned,widowed, divorced or subjected to violence. Additionally, skill training will also be provided through Rajasthan Knowledge Corporation Limited (RKCL) to make them more employable. Recently, Tata Consultancy Services also grabbed the headlines with its recent launch of a recruitment drive to hire more women professionals, followed by other IT majors like Wipro, Infosys and HCL. The participation of women in urban areas is still encouraging, but overall participation is far from desirable. This policy raises the prospect of bolstering the financial status of vulnerable women and children. More women employees are not only good for gender equality, but they also create stronger national economies. Besides, more participation of women in the workforce would help India achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 on ending poverty, SDG 5 on achieving gender equality, SDG 8 on ensuring economic growth and SDG 10 on reducing inequalities. More women in the workforce is a win-win situation for all.
Well known Social Worker, Padma Shri Sindhutai Sapkal, died on Tuesday following a heart attack atGalaxy Care Hospital in Pune. “She had undergone a hernia surgery one and a half months ago and recovery was very slow. Today (Tuesday) she died of a heart attack around 8 PM.” Said Mr. Shailesh Puntambekar, the medical director of the hospital.
A brief look at her life Sapkal, fondly known as “mother of orphans”, was born on November 14, 1948, in Wardha district of Maharashtra. Having been born in extreme poor conditions, she was forced to drop out of school just after passing class IV, was married to a 32-year-old man at the very age of 12. Pregnant Sindhutai was abandoned by her husband at the age of 20 with her three children. Society continued to play the evil role in her life as she was refused any help by the villagers and even her mother, forcing her to beg to raise her daughters.
Her determination and will power helped her overcome these circumstances and she started working for orphans. Her achievements She has received more than 270 awards from various national and international organizations. In 2017, she was bestowed with the Nari Shakti award, India’s highest civilian award dedicated to women by President Ram Nath Kovind. In November 2021, she was conferred the Padma Shri in the Social Work category. Having raised 1050 orphans, “mother of orphans” breathed her last at the age of 73.
Alka Mittal who has previously served as ONGC’s Director of Human Resources, has created history by becoming the first female interim chairman and managing director of ONGC. The position was previously filled by Subash Kumar, who recently retired on 31 December. Mittal is also the first woman to hold the post of a full-time director on the board of ONGC. ONGC leads the country’s oil and gas production industry. Mittal’s appointment is greatly significant for this male-dominated industry, which has never seen a female chairperson before. Previously, When Nishi Vasudeva took over the reins of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, an oil refiner and fuel marketing company, in 2014, she became the first woman to lead an oil company (HPCL).
Alka Mittal graduated from Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia in 2001 with a PhD in business/commerce and corporate governance. In 1983, she graduated from Dehradun’s M.K.P.P.G College with a master’s degree in economics. As her work as director of Human resources, Mittal has played a leading role in encouraging and ensuring a safe working space for women employees of the company. She is also recognised for implementing the ONGC’s National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS), which involved over 5000 apprentices across all work centres. Mittal will superannuate in August-end or until the appointment of a regular incumbent to the post is done.
In view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in various states and keeping in view the vulnerability of elderly population to Corona virus, Government has decided to further extend the time limit up to 28th February, 2022 for submission of Life Certificate (Jeevan Pramaan) by the Central Government pensioners. Pensioners can submit life certificate through any of the permissible modes during the extended period. A pensioner is required to submit the life certificate in the month of November every year. The time limit for submission of Life Certificate (Jeevan Pramaan) by the Central Government pensioners was earlier extended up to 31st December, 2021. Pension will continue to be paid by the Pension Disbursing Authorities (PDAs) uninterrupted during the extended period upto 28th February, 2022. Pension Disbursing Banks have been advised to continue to maintain Covid-19 appropriate behaviour while obtaining Life Certificates and to ensure proper arrangements and social distancing measures at the bank branches to prevent overcrowding.
The future is bleak for Afghanistan’s women as the Taliban consolidate their hold over a shaky country and its people by reinforcing its barbaric interpretation of Islam which has stripped the women of all their rights and freedom, claim Afghan women activists.
In an emotional online interaction with members of the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) yesterday, they spoke of a return to the earlier nightmare Taliban regime of the 90s when women and girls were barred from educational institutions and publicly thrashed or executed for stepping outdoors alone. “Women worked very hard to get back on their feet since 2000, but in a matter of days they have been stripped of all their rights,” said Dr Humeira Rizai, researcher and activist.
Observing that women in exile have a duty to raise their voice for all the women in Afghanistan, Shunkai Karokhail, Member of Parliament and a vocal advocate of women’s rights in Afghanistan, came down heavily on the United States ,Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran for pushing their own ‘vested interests’ at the cost of the Afghani people.
She said the U.S made an ‘historical mistake’ by exiting the country in such a hurried manner and should accept its mistake. “They ignored the democratic institutions and civil society in Afghanistan which only made the local war lords more powerful.”
Despite the Taliban claims that there will be a better from of governance in which women and minorities will continue to enjoy basic rights, the facts suggest otherwise and the Afghan activists are openly skeptical. “We do not recognize this Taliban regime as they have no religious minorities in their cabinet,” Dr Rizai, who belongs to the Hazara community, pointed out.
“They have not changed since the 1990s when they set the country back a 100 years. We witnessed the killing frenzy of the Taliban as they massacred Hazaras, Sikhs and Hindus. And now the last Jew has left Afghanistan, she said. “Now they have issued a Fatwa that Hazaras are infidels and should be killed.”
There have already been killings and beatings of women and men associated either with the previous regime or with banned activities like politics, sports and music. Many women activists and politicians are trapped in Afghanistan and keep changing their hide-outs because the Taliban ransacked their homes and took away their cars and the weapons of their security personnel, said Karokhail. “This is the way they are scaring women who either had to run away or keep silent.”
Afghan journalist Fatima Faramarz said the Taliban consider women as ‘animals’ to be treated as they please. She recalled a TV interview in which a Taliban leader had said that women were not able to shoulder responsibility. She cited the case of her own sister who was working in the police service and on reporting for duty on August 15 to take up a special training assignment was instead asked to hand in her resignation.
Karokhail warns that an internal uprising will start sooner or later as the Afghan people will not accept a government that does not keep abreast of other countries. “In today’s Afghanistan, women know how to raise their voices. Recently, they even protested against the Taliban regime. In return the Taliban raised their guns and beat them up publicly.”
Faramarz claims two of her colleagues were brutally beaten when they went to cover one such protest. “They were taken by the Taliban to a police station and beaten with batons and electrical cables.”
The activists have accused the former leaders of Afghanistan for the current situation and said they should be held accountable for their actions. “Former President Hamid Karzai called the Taliban ‘our brothers’ while Ashraf Ghani ran away from the problems and the deals that he had made with the Taliban,” said Dr Rizai.
Karokhail stressed that the way forward is for the Taliban to bring back women into the system and governance in Afghanistan. She said the country has been suffering from drought for the past several years and now with the Corona pandemic all economic activity has ceased. “As a Minister, I have not received any communication from the Taliban. All communications have closed even with Afghanistan’s embassy in Canada. “
Karokhail was on the Taliban’s hit list and in one instance barely escaped with her life. She fled Afghanistan on August 20 and now lives in Canada. Rizai and Faramarz have also taken shelter in other countries to escape the Taliban regime. END
According to the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) India rankings (NIRF 2021), Miranda House is the best college in India. Dharmendra Pradhan, the education minister, announced the NIRF Ranking 2021 on 9th September, 2021. Miranda House has been on top of the list for the fifth consecutive time.
In October 2020, Miranda House started working towards creating an archive to preserve its seventy-two years old history in order to document the history of women in the field of higher education. On its Founder’s Day, the Miranda House Archiving Project was announced. In the words of the Acting Principal Dr. Bijayalaxmi Nanda, “I’m interested in the telling of the history of a woman’s college. A ‘herstory’ is a narrative. It’s not just about achievements. In an old college magazine, I found a piece written by the first principal about how she had offered sari to students who had come to her home and had been caught in the rain… Narratives of what women students’ access to education had been like, their relationships with their teachers and each other.” (The Indian Express)
In March 2021, Miranda House planned to offer a three-month certificate program in order to train women who aspire to join politics both at the state level and the national level. In order to assist the ones in need during the Covid 19 pandemic, Miranda House initiated a help desk service on 22nd April, 2021. They received calls from people asking their help to find oxygen, doctors, hospital beds, ambulance services, plasma, RT-PCR tests and so on. The students then directed the people to a credible source who could help them.
The operation was headed by Srishti Sensarma. In her words, it was the college principal Bijayalaxmi Nanda’s idea and was started by a few students to help the college community. However, their phone numbers soon spread out vastly and since then they have been receiving phone calls by people asking for help.
By providing unique opportunities to women both in terms of higher education and life experiences, Miranda House is setting new and higher goals for themselves every day. Its dedication towards the future and well being of young women, and the society in general, is unmatchable. Miranda House’s contribution in achieving a society where women are treated equally with men in both professional and public spheres is truly phenomenal.
Dr. Priya Abraham, a renowned virologist, is the director of ICMR and is heading the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Welcome Prof. Priya Abraham, I welcome you to the show.
Dr. Priya Abraham: Thank you for having me in your show and I look forward to this interaction.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Recently we read that the mixture of Covaxin and Covishield actually benefitted people and boosted immunity. Would you like to throw some more light on it and tell us whether there are confusions or whether it is the right direction?
Dr. Priya Abraham: In our experience, we were led to look at a serendipitous mixture of doses. It happened unintentionally and we looked at the response rate. Those who received a heterogeneous combination, that means, one vaccine followed by a different vaccine as the second dose, we found that it was not unsafe and did not cause any extra symptoms or side effects. The immune response was a little better but the numbers are modest and very few at this point in time. Time will tell when we will be able to give an official recommendation that this is a safe way to go and also in some way a little beneficial. So right now this is not a formal recommendation.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Looking at the full journey of the pandemic, even a month back the situation was scarier than it is now. However, we are hearing reports about the increase in cases in places such as Kerala and North-Eastern India. As far as this pandemic and SARS-CoV-2 is concerned, where do we stand as of now?
Dr. Priya Abraham: First thing we have to understand is that India is a large and complex country and each state is like a “country”. So we might have multiple surges across our country, it’s not like the surge comes simultaneously over the different states of the country. So, it may be related to, one, the level of protection that people have. Or even, people may have low levels of antibodies because they have adopted very good public health and social measures, such that, many people are not protected. So should there be a spread in the community, many people go down with it. Another factor that contributes to differential positivity rates is, one of course there has been a general laxity in that region; otherwise, it is also because of the manner in which they test. Are they testing intelligently? Are they actually catching the more symptomatic people who are likely to be positive? Maybe in some regions we are not testing intelligently. We are catching people who are at a lower risk, the asymptomatic individuals, and they will come positive. So the percentage prevalence will be low. You have tested n number but you have not tested the people who really are likely to be positive. So these are the factors that lead to variation between the states. And I think now, both Kerala and the North East are just going through their wave. Other states have already completed their wave. This is likely to happen and it is going to be different as the festivals approach us. Each state has its own regional festivals which are very big things for them, and if we open it out, then we are going to have multiple small surges based on the level of crowding and merry-making that are happening, which are done in a callous way.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: In fact, Ma’am, I would really like you to give out a message here, as you, being in Maharashtra, has rightly said that all over India the festival season is starting and in spite of spreading the word about social distancing, festivals create an emotional surge. Would you like to give a message here saying how important it is to behave in a Covid-19 protocol manner?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I think the more sensible approach, at the point where we are today, is to continue to mask up. I think now is the time where you can take out your designer masks so you can have a nice, snazzy mask that goes with your pretty outfit; but masking is a must, physical distancing is a must, overcrowding is a big no-no, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are also very important. We could go with the flow of things and be really excited about our festivals approaching, but this has to be celebrated in a different manner where we can have fun but we have to be sensibly celebrating.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Sensibly celebrating is the message that Prof. Priya Abraham of course is giving, apart from many others who really understand the severity of the situation as it is and only the current Covid-19 protocol behaviour really gives us that safety cover which is important. We are very happy that we have crossed 50 crores in India as far as vaccination is concerned. However, despite two doses of vaccination, we are seeing cases of breakthrough infections. How would you like to make us understand what it is all about and how we can deal with it?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I want to make two points very clear. One is that, no vaccine is hundred percent effective in stopping acquisition of infection. What a vaccine does is it protects you against serious forms of illness should you pick up SARS-CoV-2. Those of us who are vaccinated and who are going around in and out of malls and festivities, we could pick up the infection. The infection could enter our bodies through our nostrils, it could cause a localized infection, we might not get very sick because we are vaccinated but we could potentially be the roots of transmission to others, especially, vulnerable people at home, elders at home, such as our grandparents and parents who have other health conditions. So we need to be cautious and celebrate knowing that even though we are vaccinated, we could pick up and continue to transmit the infection to others who are more vulnerable.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Another thing we read and also heard about from the director of AIIMS Dr. Randeep Guleria is the R factor. How serious and severe is it? How much do we need to look at it?
Dr. Priya Abraham: R factor is the reflection of ratio; when one person gets infected, how many other people can that one person infect. So when that R factor crosses 1, what they call the R–naught, that means, if I am infected, I can potentially infect two or three people and those two or three people can infect two or three people and you can see that becomes a very quick spread of infection in a particular area. So R-naughts going up, definitely crossing 1, is not a good thing for any region. And again I come back to our behaviour, which will be able to keep this R-naught lower just by virtue of the way we behave in public and even in our homes, or even when we are interacting with our colleagues and friends.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: What about the 3rd Wave that one has been talking about? How do we really need to look at it? Is there any trend which shows that the 3rd Wave could be just around?
Dr. Priya Abraham: The 3rd Wave may happen. We have seen it happen in other countries, even Delhi had more than two waves. So 3rd Wave is likely to happen; when it will happen, how big that wave will be is dictated by us. So, to all your questions, I have the same answer to give. The more careful we are, the more responsible we are, we can at least delay the wave and even if a wave was to come, the size of the wave will depend on how good our measures are.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Coming to children, some people are saying that children’s health might get affected. How true is that? How do we need to look at children and their health in the current SARS-CoV-2 scenario?
Dr. Priya Abraham: Well if you see the results of the most recent surveys that ICMR did, you will know that large number of children were exposed and they were positive antibodies to the virus, which means, they were exposed. The majority of children handled this virus very well. They usually have an asymptomatic illness and we may not even know that they are infected. It is the children that have some other medical complication which could make the outcome serious for them. Otherwise by and large, children, especially younger children, handle the virus very well. At best they have mild symptoms or no symptoms, but as I said it is only in a fraction of children who have some other medical complication that the infection can take a bad turn.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: We always say that women should lead from the front. We talk about female health workers and I must appreciate and also share with our viewers here that we feel delighted that someone like you is leading NIV in Pune, leading in the health sector and creating a very scientific understanding for us. Looking at India, if we focus on the whole sector of virology, the scientific study, the scientific temperament that we should all have, and the new learnings from the pandemic, how have we really behaved?
Dr. Priya Abraham: In terms of the health care sector and in terms of a potentially future pandemic hitting us, we need to have very robust healthcare infrastructure. Just like our armed forces, it is a preparedness that we need to have, to be able to handle an outbreak which will come from the most unexpected quarters. So, the preparedness is very important. But having said that, if we reflect on how the entire bunch of the health care workers as well as the indigenous kits and equipment that we were able to put out, I think as a country we have done well. ICMR-NIV itself, we were the first to report the virus, and within two weeks, we had taught thirteen lakhs how to do the RT-PCR Test. Today we have taught 107 virus research diagnostic labs which are under the department of Health Research and over 1300 government labs are using the technology we taught them. So day and night we taught people virtually, online, how to do a test which they had never done before. So from very low levels of expertise, people have come up to a very good level of expertise. They have risen to the challenge and we have a number of labs today, over 2000 or perhaps as I talk maybe 3000 labs, both government and private, that are able to do testing for our country.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: So basically we did stand up to the challenge Ma’am.
Dr. Priya Abraham: Yes we stood up to the challenge. The very good reporting network and the portal we have to enter results set up by ICMR, even the government responding to making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators, now we increasing our oxygen production capacity, every day we are hearing that we are inching up more and more and a lot of indigenous kits and equipment have also come into the market. So I think we have not really been lackadaisical from that angle. But as the public of India, we don’t need anybody to tell us. By now common man should be made to understand that this pandemic will behave the way we behave, in the sense, if we behave responsibly, the pandemic will slowly ebb away.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: But as we see around Ma’am, people have started travelling. Using a mask and social distancing are very important, but people are not only travelling domestically but there are plans of making admissions for children and tour plans for business, outside the country as well. What would you really advice at this point of time as to what exactly the kind of precautions we should really take?
Dr. Priya Abraham: So again I would say vaccinate as much as possible. Be vaccinated and the mask is a wonderful “kavach” for us. So no matter where we are, whether we are at the cafeteria, of course we have to eat but try to find a place where it is not crowded, where you have a little space around you so you can take off your mask and consume your food, especially when you are going to the washroom, the mask has to be on. Again when you are crowded in an aircraft or in a lobby, look at the place and you will find that there are many people around you, so there is no scope for letting down your guard. In fact, I was in an aircraft recently; I had to go for work. I was sitting across the aisle with a man who was quietly letting his mask down. Twice the cabin crew told him to put up his mask and when they disappeared, he brought his mask down. Then I spoke to him from across the aisle and I told him, “Excuse me Sir, this mask is first to protect you and then to protect others. So please don’t do it for anybody else, please wear that mask.” So I think we should also step out of our zones of comfort and actually tell people who are wearing chin masks, who have their nose sticking out of the mask, who put aside their masks. We are a vehicle to pass this message around so that all of us collectively become more responsible.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: We get most of the information online, or by reading newspaper or by watching television, of course ICMR is putting out information, the Health Ministry is also, through its conferences, telling us about what is happening. Talking about the recent scenario, the vaccination is taking place; women’s health is also of priority. What is your message to women as to how they should protect themselves and take care of themselves? Recently we heard that pregnant women can get vaccinated as well. What would say about the confusion regarding women taking the vaccine, taking the right kind of precautions and dealing with this pandemic and SARS-CoV-2?
Dr. Priya Abraham: Women are just as vulnerable as men for this infection and women need to understand that vaccination is very important. It does not interfere with their menstrual cycle or fertility issues and can be taken during pregnancy and while they are nursing. This is the first thing they need to know. A woman is a pivotal person not just at her place of work but I think she is the pivotal person in a family setting. She is important for her children, her husband, her parents and for herself. So I think that women should not put this on a back burner, they should take every effort to get themselves vaccinated if they want to stay healthy and also this Covid-19 appropriate behaviour is very relevant for her too. She is very much a person who should be handling this very responsibly and there are no additional risks to a woman.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Thank you for sharing that and I am sure that all the women out there feel confident. Please go and get vaccinated as the experts say that this is important. As far as vaccination is concerned, and you also spoke about testing, how are we going ahead? Where do we stand?
Dr. Priya Abraham: If you are asking me about testing, I think testing has to continue. Testing, tracing, quarantining, isolating, all of these are extremely important and we need to be maintaining a quality. It is not just any test, but a test that will give the result. I need to remind the public that there was this talk about RT-PCR Test not performing optimally when the peak of the second wave hit us. That was because the health care system and the laboratories were overwhelmed by the sheer load of tests they had to do. And I know for a fact that many of the staff who were in the lab were themselves infected. So we need to help each other; like I always tell people that let us not put that load on the doctors and nurses and other health care workers. We are responsible. We do not need to be an agent of putting more load on the healthcare system. So yes, to some extent, both the hospitals and the laboratories were reeling from the load but I think our labs are well up to meeting that challenge and we just need to keep up with it. There is no time for laxity.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: At this point of time we know that there are a lot of confusions and rumours regarding the pandemic, although we don’t want it and we keep telling others not to spread misinformation but sometimes through some inputs one gets apprehensions. So post Delta variant, will there be a new variant which will be worse, as some people say?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I will take the question a little differently. I would say that the vaccine and the mask are your protection against any variant. Yes, the Delta variant was extremely transmissible, so it raged through our country, it has raged through so many other countries, well over 132 countries and I think my figure is conservative. It is probably more than that. So you know how many countries now have the Delta variant. Even in the United States of America, the Delta variant is raging. Now knowing this virus, the more you give it a chance to spread amongst a population, it is going to keep changing its avatar a little. So variants are likely to come, and for that most of the nations have now geared up to do very good surveillance and sequencing of strains that are circulating in a region. So every region, including the WHO, is alerting us that there is a new variant about. And again, like I said, if we allow the virus to spread more amongst us, the virus will keep changing just a little bit. That’s the nature of the virus. So what we can do is stop its spread.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Talking about virology, in this pandemic, we got to understand the whole importance of this area of health. But tell us about this whole pattern of understanding the virus. It took some time, of course, to understand the pattern, the nature. As far as virology in India in concerned and you are heading one of the important institutions, how much do you think have we really gotten hang of it now? You said that we stood up to the challenge and we have really been able to come together and gain good results to preserve or take care of the healthcare system. But as far as virology is concerned, can you give us more insights on that in India?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I think there has been a huge amount of awareness not only among the lay people, who are not scientists themselves, but in the whole healthcare system and among laboratories, I told you how we had empowered 107 laboratories, and now virtually every medical college has developed capacity to test viruses. People had this bigger, larger discipline of Microbiology, people knew about TB, people knew about those kinds of bugs, to some extent they knew a little about the H1N1 which common man refers to as the Swine Flu. But at that time, the spread of the virus wasn’t so much and we also had an antiviral drug for it. The drug combined with vaccine could quell the spread of the previous pandemic to some extent. Now we are finding that this virus is spreading like really crazy and now I think awareness has come up to a great extent among the non-scientific and the scientific communities; and I think this will hold us in good strength but we should keep up the awareness and preparedness so that we will be well braced and ready for another potential pandemic in the future.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: We work here with a lot of young people, we work with colleges and many of them are young girls; if we talk about virology and the scientific stream as a subject, what would be your message to some of these young people who are looking at careers in the areas of science and scientific research?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I think we have come a long way. In fact, earlier when I used to say that I am a virologist, people would say, “Oh you are a biologist?” They could not distinguish what virology is and what biology is; I think that awareness has come up and I think this whole discipline of virology is really the place to be. I think working in a discipline such as this, you will never be out of business. I say it not out of an inflated sense of confidence, I am just saying it out of our experience from the recent past. As I am speaking to you, you know we found that there was Zika both in Kerala and in Maharashtra. We are constantly finding new things, so being in this specialty is perhaps one of the best places to be if you are in the overall discipline of science.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: And that leads to another small question about convergence, that is, how do we join together and understand something which poses a challenge for us? Within the health system, let’s say, you are in the field of virology right now, but there are different scientific streams, expertise and researches; what would you say about the convergence of it all happening in India as of now?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I think between different disciplines, whether you are a cancer surgeon or you are a person who looks after kidney diseases, a nephrologist, or a cardiologist or a pharmacologist who looks at drugs, or an immunologist or a vaccinologist or a virologist – this particular pandemic has just driven home the fact that we have to work in a very complimentary fashion. Our inputs in a complimentary manner, in a cohesive manner will bring out the best outcomes. Nobody can work in isolation. We are interdependent at a time like this.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: That is very well said Ma’am; the interdependence and also understanding and learning from each other, and then working together to face the pandemic. Do we have some other questions team? Is there somebody who would like to ask a question here?
Q) Tishya Majumder: When we talk about common objects such as money or coins which people handle every day, what percentage of the virus can enter our bodies from objects such as money?
Dr. Priya Abraham: Money or anything that can be touched by common man, be it the railing, or even when you travel in an airport shuttle which takes you from the airplane to the lobby of the airport, that is touched by innumerable people. For all of us, when we touch anything that is handled by anybody and everybody, we should periodically sanitize our hands. Definitely we shouldn’t take the unsanitized hands to rub our face, our nose or even consume food especially if we are not using a fork and spoon, if we are eating Roti or whatever; without sanitizing our hands or washing it well with soap and water or using a good sanitizer, we cannot consume food. We must assume all these could have been touched by somebody who is not as careful about transmission of infection, following strict Covid-19 protocol, not taking hands to the nose or face; so we have to assume that these objects are potentially infected.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Tishya, thank you for asking that question. One more thing Ma’am and I can’t let you go without asking you a little bit about your personal and professional journey, reaching here and leading here at NIV; and also when we are looking at the health sector in the times of pandemic, how has it been understanding something specifically and having huge responsibilities at a time like this? How has it all been for you Ma’am?
Dr. Priya Abraham: I will be honest, it has not been easy and obviously to lead an institute that is doing so much work at a critical time, we started our work in January of 2020, so we are almost 18 months into this, it has not been easy. There has always been pressure from all quarters because everybody was stressed and did not know how to handle it, be it from individual entrepreneurs, scientists, from the government, from the ministry, because everybody was under stress. But looking back, I think, because of the excellent teamwork in the institution that I am heading, we were able to contribute in several ways and I look back with a feeling of contentment, some sense of accomplishment and gratitude that things went fairly well, nobody became very sick and there were no transmissions of the virus within the institute, we didn’t close down a single day. The days we closed down were for the machines to be rehauled and recalibrate because machines also need some time. It has been a very hectic and eventful rollercoaster journey but I think, looking back I feel, we have been able to serve the nation.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Another small question again about our health workers actually. We need to salute our health workers, the entire spectrum, from doctors in ICU to paramedics to nurses to other medical staff, I think they have really worked 24/7 and I think as a team, as you are saying, at the institution ICMR-NIV, and apart from that, all over India I think health workers have really done a commendable job.
Dr. Priya Abraham: I have to completely agree with you. I think we have to salute people who are frontline staff, frontline workers, be it qualified as a formal frontline staff in terms of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and even in the non-formal sector, they were there facing the suffering and putting themselves at immense risk because they were going back to families after having been at work for long hours in the midst of all this suffering and lot of infection around them. So that is what I had earlier mentioned that we can truly appreciate them and we can truly salute them for their services by being responsible citizens and making sure we don’t either pick up the infection or transmit infection to others; that would be our best tribute to the work they have done for this whole period of the pandemic.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Thank you so much Ma’am for your valuable time, for all your insights, for all the valuable information that you have shared here on Her World India Talk Show and we really feel very grateful to you and we also show our gratitude to all the health workers here and of course to you! More power to you for leading from the top as you are from NIV, an institute as prestigious as that, and ICMR, our Heath Ministry which is keeping an eye on things as they are happening. Prof. Priya Abraham, thank you so much for talking to us.
A cup of steaming coffee on one side, excitement filling up every nook of the mind, and P.V. Sindhu’s signature smashes on the television screen- this is one of the many images of Olympic 2020 that will stay alive in my, and most Indians’, mind for a long while! It will not be an exaggeration to call this Indian women’s Olympic for reasons more than one. From Mirabai Chanu bagging a medal right on the first day to Lovlina Borgohain and P.V. Sindhu, women at this Olympic have brought glory and pride to the country. Even the women’s hockey match this morning smelled fresh of courage and hopes. These women scored three brilliant goals against the last Olympic gold medallists, and what needs to take from this match is these Indian women’s determination. After all, sports are not about nabbing medals or trophies solely. Their beauty also lies in the experience of playing and learning, in honing one’s skills simultaneously with saturating the viewers’ minds with enthusiasm. Sports teach us how to transform our hobby or passion into profession, completely commit ourselves to it, and actively pursue the same to perfection. One of the things I like most about sports, as a viewer though, is the immense power these possess to bring millions of minds together. On this exceptionally gloomy morning in Kolkata, the women’s hockey match could ensure hundreds and thousands of eyes remained glued to the television screens, cheering the players virtually from miles away. This is no less than a victory!
Mirabai Chanu, lifting up weights, wearing her silver medal at the Olympic and sporting a smile with the same comfort and ease, hails from a small village in the Indian state of Manipur. Hers has not been a rose-tinted tale of success. The hamlet she belongs to, Nongpok Kakching, is located so far from the Sports Academy in Imphal that it was difficult for her to cover this distance on foot regularly. Fortunately, enough, truckers carrying river sands to Imphal came to her recuse and offered her a lift every day for several years. Mirabai Chanu’s acknowledgement of the help the truckers extended to her and her gratitude for them has been more than overwhelming. This small personal anecdote has filled our eyes with tears. The sacrifices she has made even before her final performance at this Olympic by not having any food two days before the competition to maintain her weight corroborates the fact that these athletes have to give up on a lot of things to “achieve something big”, as Mirabai put it after winning the medal.
The nation is also basking in the glory of the boxer and bronze medallist at this Olympic, Lovlina Borgohain, and so is the sleepy little village Baromukhia in Assam where she hails from. Much like Mirabai, what Lovlina has known since a tender age is the stench of financial depravity, but it was their determination and perseverance that did not let their minds settle on what they did not have. They stood tall at the face of all odds and brought home what they have put their minds to. Her victory has also brought a promise of development to her village. Her father is all set to shower his twenty-three-year-old daughter with all his love and treat her to a celebratory meal of fried pork.
P.V. Sindhu, on the other hand, was born to professional volleyball players and eventually found herself drawn towards badminton. Breaking into the top twenty of the BWF World Ranking in 2012, she has never had to look back. One of the medal hopes for India, Sindhu’s defeat at the semi-final match was devastating. Born to be a success, Sindhu did not succumb to this defeat. Enthused by her coach Park Tae-sang, she won a literally ‘smash’ing victory in the match against China’s He Bingjiao.
But it will be erroneous to comment that only these medallists have given us a testimony to their talents. Mary Kom, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Kamalpreet Kaur, Deepika Kumari, among many other Indian women at this Olympic, have shown, once again, that sports can be of women and for everyone as well. What they harbour is an indomitable spirit.
There is nothing to stop them if they set their minds to the things they want to ace!
According to Mckinsey, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses .This pandemic has defied the trend that other recessions had on labour market. In previous recessions , the crunch was more on men and because of that they were famously known as “Mancessions” or equally on men and women but now it has become “shecession”.
The disproportionate impact on men’s employment of earlier recessions were due to the fact that men did more construction and manufacturing work which are mainly affected in any business downturn .This pandemic is peculiar in the sense that it is affecting sectors which tend to be stable in any fluctuation of business cycle, but are severely affected due to lockdown and social distancing. Due to occupational segregation, women tend to be working more in jobs which are more flexible in order to have work-family balance. As a result of which they are employed more in areas like teaching, hospitality, and other ‘contact-based’ services. For example , According to NSSO data (1970 – 2018) , for urban women, the service sector has become increasingly significant, with its share in employment rising from 35.7% in 1977-78 to 60.7% in 2017-18. In this sector, women have become concentrated in professions such as teaching and nursing, which offer only limited scope for career progression.
This is of course the first reason as to why this pandemic is reversing the trend. The second reason is due to the stereotype prevalent in society, that compels women to face greater burden of unpaid household chores and childcare. This pandemic led to shutting down of schools and offices making everyone confined to their home. This is becoming stressful for working women as they have to manage their office work with increased and unequal childcare and household chores. Many women are choosing to either reduce their working hours or leave the job , pushing the gender gap in employment to become wider. Nearly 2 million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether, according to the McKinsey ‘Women in the Workplace’ report. Indian women are spending an estimated 30% more time on domestic work during Covid-19, according to McKinsey estimates. Now, working remotely while the entire family is at home, they have to do both shifts at the same time, along with an increased load of household responsibilities. In fact, now with offices opening up, there will be another challenge for many women – where do they keep their children when they go to work, how safe is it to appoint a help. Research says, because of dropping out, women are not able to invest much in human capital resulting in less wage , widening gender wage gap.
Third , women are less employed in jobs that allow them to telecommute (Monthly labour review- 22% female workers in comparison to 28% male workers). How can you do services like hospitality and retail work in a ZOOM meeting?
Even if women dominated services like nursing is in full swing in this pandemic , there is serious discrimination women are facing in this field. With women comprising of the bulk of the world’s frontline health workers, both formally at work and informally at home, they are at significant risk of infection. PPE kits’ shortage was normal in the beginning of this pandemic , and even if they were available , they tend to be ill-fitted for women as most PPE are designed and sized based on a male template . The low availability of properly-fitting PPE, together with the high rates of women involved in frontline health worker, may explain why in some countries the infections among female health workers are more than twice that of male health workers.
Teachers are having double responsibility. First, they have to take care of their child in their home and also take care of school children in online classes.
Ms. Ishrat Tanki , Chairperson/ Principal ,Firdous Educational Institute , Baramulla , Kashmir in talk with Her-World India says
On the other hand, domestic violence is rising because of stress , loss of job , increased family burden, women being forced to be confined with their abusive partners. According to the official data of the National Commission for Women (NCW), domestic violence complaints have increased by 2.5 times since the nationwide lockdown began in India. Some of the researchers are referring to this as the next pandemic or shadow pandemic of India.
How it is the effect in different for different cohorts
The gruesome effect of covid-19 is different for different sets of people.
In India, women tend to be employed more in informal sector which is low paying, has poor working condition and lack social security. For example, In India, 94% of women are employed in the unorganised sector. And these jobs are the worst affected in covid-19 pandemic. Globally, 58 per cent of employed women work in informal employment, and estimates suggest that during the first month of the pandemic, informal workers globally lost an average of 60 per cent of their income, making women more vulnerable than ever.
This pandemic is becoming harder on single parents specifically single mothers. There are 13 million households run by single mothers in the country, an estimated 4.5% of all households, according to a United Nations Women report in 2019. There is no other person to bring money to the home , making them helpless , specially at the time when companies are laying off employees , and no one to share household responsibility.
It has also uncovered the exploitation black women have to face. Black women are employed more in jobs that are seriously affected by covid like hospitality making them suffer a lot. These jobs are low paying. Their health infrastructure accessibility is not at par with white women putting them in riskier condition.
The road ahead
Experts feel that this ‘shecession’ will have long lasting impact giving a huge setback to the women’s movement for equality that was reaching its goal gradually for over a century . According to LinkedIn data referenced in the report, women are being hired back at slower rate than men as workplace opened up again. Governments need to understand that women are economies’ immunity and they are vital to fight COVID-19 and make sure that no economy catches this virus. The policy need to be well drafted and the need of the hour is gender specific and not gender neutral budgets and policies. Many provisions like state funded childcare facilities or flexible working conditions, safe and pragmatic return to work programmes e.t.c. will help women get back to work or abstain them from leaving their jobs. This is a difficult time for all of us and calls for united effort in terms of father- mother, government – family, government- individual e.t.c. Women are resilient, women working as doctors , nurses, teachers , e.t.c. are putting their 100% to fight this pandemic. Dr. Shakuntala Kumar , Head, Nulife Hospital, Delhi in conversation with Her-World India talked about her life in the pandemic and how she was committed to her job even after losing closed one in this pandemic.
This pandemic is unprecedent and unique but I know one thing women have the capability to fight with anything because
“In our minds, superheroes can jump tall buildings, have technological gadgets and superpowers. But what do they have in common — the ability to save lives. And the magical thing is that they show up exactly at the right time to save a life. How are living, breathing scientists different from the superheroes in comics?”
These wise words do not belong to any 40 year old scientist but to a 15 year old young scientist who looks nothing like the image one has, of an innovator and scientist.
The 15 year old is none other than Indian-American Colorado resident, Gitanjali Rao who is synonymous with breaking into bastions which have so far been ruled by grown-ups. The feathers that America’s Top Young Scientist (2017) has added to her cap, in the recent few years include winning the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2017, being an active STEM(science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) promoter, when she invented Tethys, a device that detects lead contamination in water, in 2017 and being featured on Forbes 30 Under 30 for her innovations. Gitanjali was also awarded the Top “Health” Pillar Prize for the TCS Ignite Innovation Student Challenge in May 2019 for developing a diagnostic tool called Epione based on advances in genetic engineering for early diagnosis of prescription opioid addiction.
With such rich achievements, Gitanjali created ripples in the world of science and turned heads by becoming the first youngster to be featured on the cover of TIME magazine and named their first “Kid of the Year” as the TIME Top young innovator in 2020.
Nothing short of a child prodigy, Gitanjali’s precocious streaks were evident to her parents when as a three year old, she asked her mother what she could do to help someone who was sick. It is this altruistic streak and the need to fix a problem, spurred by the deep interest in science has shaped Gitanjali into who she is today.
As a seventh grader, the young scientist’s preoccupation was trying to crack the problem of Flint crisis where the city’s water was contaminated with lead. What keeps Gitanjali on her toes mentally is her love for science which is evident where she says, “‘No matter where they are, scientists come up with solutions to help people. I love science and I want to be a scientist superhero solving real world problems and saving lives.”
Apart from environment, Gitanjali’s thoughtfulness is visible in her contribution to solve the menace of cyberbullying at its early stages via an app, Kindly which is based on AI technology.
Says Gitanjali, “I started to hard-code in some words that could be considered bullying, and then my engine took those words and identified words that are similar. You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is. The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.”
But she isn’t all work and no play. She is an accomplished pianist and proficient in playing the piano, Indian classical dancing and singing, swimming, and fencing. She was nine years old when she began to learn classical music.
She is currently a member of Scouts and has enrolled in the Scouting STEM program in the United States,and is working on getting her pilot’s license
The latest engagements that keep her busy these days is that she is researching at the University of Colorado, Denver in the Department of Cell Biology to find a solution for prescription opioid addiction using the latest in genetic engineering and created a colorimetry based app and device. She is also excited about creating a community of young innovators wherein she identifies innovation as a necessity and not as merely a choice.