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Women health care workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 response

Meet Marilena, a nurse who works in a public hospital in Nicosia and a married mother with a two-year-old child.While most people are sheltering at home during the health crisis, healthcare workers remain on the frontline of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.Speaking to UNFICYP, Marilena highlighted that “nurses are mostly women, we are the ones who are working day and night to take care of patients, staying away for days, or even months in some cases, from our homes and families. There’s enormous concern and fear for ourselves and our loved ones on whether we might get ill or transmit the virus to our families. The closure of the schools, the extremely long work hours – sometimes even 24 hours straight- and the lack of PPE have a heavy toll on the psychological and physical state of nurses.”In Cyprus and globally, women constitute the majority of employees working in the health sector while they are also the predominant care providers at home. Many women working in the health sector have tough job in balancing a demanding professional and home life. While many men also provide help, data shows that women spend 50% more of their time providing care at home than men do.Marilena spoke to the physical challenges she is also experiencing, “Using the PPE, masks and gloves every day for many hours, as well as having to wash my hands many times during the day has taken a toll on own health, including chapped and bleeding hands, skin conditions causing me lots of pain.”However, Marilena said that as a woman professional in the health sector, “I am already sacrificing a lot and I am willing to sacrifice more if needed, since this is my job, is what I have studied and trained to do, what I love doing and what is my calling.”Looking towards the future, Marilena hopes that the sacrifices of nurses will be recognized- all the more important given that there is currently a demand for 6 million more nurses worldwide. She mentions that additional support should be given to nurses who are also juggling family caretaking responsibilities simultaneously.Globally, women constitute 70% of the health work force. Gender analysis and responsiveness is key to examining the particular needs of women – including health, psychosocial and working environment - on the front-line responding to the pandemic.