Elaine Loughlin: Covid-19 has shown it's still very much a man's world

As the virus rages half the population has been neither seen nor heard. Women have been forgotten, writes Elaine Loughlin
Elaine Loughlin: Covid-19 has shown it's still very much a man's world

Chief Medical Officer Dr  Tony Holohan and Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn. On Saturday afternoon as the country waited to hear whether we would once again be plunged into another lockdown one by one a group of suited men entered Government Buildings. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Covid-19 may have brought us all together as a nation, but the pandemic has clearly shown that it's still very much a man's world.

As the virus rages half the population has been neither seen nor heard. Women have been forgotten.

More than seven months after the first case of Covid was detected in Ireland, the BreastCheck screening service remains on pause; pregnant women are still prevented from having partners present during early labour and at vital scans; while student nurses, around 90% of whom are female, are not being paid for working on wards.

On Saturday afternoon as the country waited to hear whether we would once again be plunged into another lockdown, one by one a group of suited men entered Government Buildings.

Nphet, which has recommended a move to level 5 restrictions, was represented by the chief medical officer, deputy chief medical officer, and the chair of the team's modelling group - all highly qualified public health experts, all men.

On the Government side, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, leader of the Green Party, Finance Minister, Minister for Public Expenditure as well as the Minister for Heath all took part in the series of briefings, again all men.

Finally, the chief executive of the HSE attended the meeting to provide an update on the capacity of our hospitals and you've guessed it, the position is filled by a man.

When not a single woman is involved in key decision making, how can we expect them to be little more than an afterthought?

The meeting of men came on a day when on the other side of the globe New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed a landslide victory in the country's general election.

New Zealand, under Ms Ardern's leadership, has been a star example of how to contain, control and eradicate the virus in the community.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives her victory speech to Labour Party members at an event in Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives her victory speech to Labour Party members at an event in Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Baker

An analysis of 194 countries published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, found that countries led by women had “systematically and significantly better” Covid-19 outcomes.

The study, which looked at how countries faired during the initial phase of the pandemic pointed to the "proactive and coordinated policy responses adopted by" female leaders which had resulted in half as many deaths on average when compared to States led by men.

Ireland is run by men.

During the initial days and weeks of the pandemic we emerged from our cocoons to applaud our healthcare staff from our front doors, but nurses and care assistants didn't have the luxury of staying at home.

In March the INMO called on Government to provide childcare to frontline healthcare workers.

Pointing to the fact that 94% of nurses and midwives are women, INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said with schools and creches closed her members had been put under "intolerable pressure" and with grandparents advised to isolate and travel restricted they could not rely on the informal childcare networks of friends and family.

Promises were made to assist our healthcare heroes.

However, by May a State scheme which aimed to provide in-home childcare for frontline healthcare workers who were facing difficulty was cancelled before it even began.

The Department of Children cited a low take-up of the scheme as the reason for cancellation with only six childcare providers volunteering to take part.

The days got longer and the childcare woes of those at the coalface were quickly forgotten.

A glaring omission in last week's budget was the lack of supports for the childcare sector.

The Government did move quickly over the summer to pay student nurses, who are providing essential support services in hospitals, the same as healthcare assistants.

A man's world? Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. File picture: Julien Behal

A man's world? Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. File picture: Julien Behal

But that payment has now been removed and worse still those on placements in our acute hospitals have been told they cannot take up work elsewhere to support themselves through college due to the risk of infection.

The INMO has said students, now facing additional Covid risks are being "exploited" as they are effectively being asked to work as staff for no pay.

“Extra work, serious risk, and other sources of income being cut: student nurses and midwives are getting a raw deal. It is beyond time to respect their contribution and pay them," Ms Ní Sheaghdha said on Friday after an unsuccessful meeting with the Department of Health.

While the CervicalCheck has resumed, the temporary suspension at the height of the pandemic means thousands of women will be waiting longer for a smear test. Meanwhile the BreastCheck service has yet to restart and no resumption date has been provided.

On Monday when Cabinet meets to sign off on new restrictions, just six of the 18 people around the table will be women.

The 1916 proclamation was ahead of its time in addressing both Irishmen and Irishwomen, however, in the intervening years it seems we have only moved backwards in acknowledging women.

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