The rapid spread of coronavirus has disrupted life everywhere. With that disruption comes new health risks, when known diseases go undetected or untreated.
Ilham Edaes, a 28-year-old health worker in the West Bank, Palestine, who specialises in breast cancer screening, knows this. She has been back to work, every day, since May, serving the hardest-to-reach communities through a mobile clinic that offers breast cancer screening. Edaes knows that her work is critical, because chances of survival are higher when the cancer is detected at an early stage.
“It is vital that we do not focus only on COVID-19 and forget the other serious diseases like breast cancer,” says Edaes. “It was very important for me to get back to work as soon as possible, to save lives. COVID-19 has made interaction with people more difficult as many are scared to go to healthcare institutions for testing, but we take the mobile clinic to their homes.”
Edaes has a five-year-old son, Majd, who is growing up watching his parents share childcare and domestic chores – an unusual occurrence in the region, where domestic and unpaid care work is largely seen as women’s work. Her husband, Amer El Farrargy, who studied law and volunteers at Al Ofoq Organisation for Youth Development, is an active supporter of gender equality.
“Sharing responsibilities at home creates a stronger bond between the family,” says El Farrargy. “It allows my wife and I to take turns, get some rest, and my son and I connect more, which makes the entire family happier.”
The daily commute to work takes Edaes more than four hours because of checkpoints and road closures. But the couple try to spend time together as a family and do their best to help each other. Because of school closures during COVID-19, El Farrargy has taken on the full responsibility of Majd’s home schooling, in addition to other household chores that he regularly performs.
“When my son’s diapers used to get full (as a baby), Amer was always the one responsible for his diaper change,” recalls Ilham Edaes. “If a woman is expected to be productive at work, while having to fully take care of the household – cleaning, cooking and childcare – she will not be able to perform well at anything. This is why Amer and I have agreed to share responsibilities.”
Findings from the groundbreaking International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) – Middle East and North Africa indicate that men whose fathers participated in household work, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, are far more likely to share these responsibilities in their own marriages.
“COVID-19 and its adverse economic effects have exacerbated existing gender inequalities in most countries around the world. It has become clear that gender equality can only be achieved if men and boys take full responsibility, working side by side with women and girls, to change the gender dynamics that hinder progress,” said Moez Doraid, UN Women’s Regional Director (a.i.) for the Arab States region. “Men and women partnering at home and at the workforce, reduce the already high burdens on women, increase families’ standard of living, and enhance harmony in whole communities,” he added.
UN Women is working on a regional campaign, “Because I am a man”, to raise public awareness about the importance of men’s roles in caregiving and working towards achieving gender equality. It aims to change men’s attitudes and behaviours towards sharing unpaid care work and household responsibilities. The campaign has partnered with local community-based organisations, social media influencers, celebrities, and men and women in local communities across six countries in the region, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Palestine.
During the lockdown, Ilham Edaes and Amer El Farrargy attended several online training sessions on gender equality organised by UN Women and Al Ofoq, which helped them outline and share their responsibilities at home, and as a result they both feel that their lives are more meaningful and productive. The training was part of the Men and Women for Gender Equality program, funded by the Government of Sweden, to promote positive masculinities and gender equality in the region.
Edaes and El Farrargy are interested in raising a son with gender equitable views, explaining that they want to teach him that it’s normal for a man to clean bathrooms, take out the garbage, and be seen doing so, enabling him to become a positive role model for his friends and peers.
“When you teach your son that it’s normal for a man to clean or cook, you are actually helping in changing the community as a whole,” says Edaes.
El Farrargy believes that women and men are born equal and says, “My wife loves her job, although she gets very tired, she enjoys it very much. If this is not worth sharing household responsibilities, then I don’t know what is.”
Learn more and engage with the campaign on social media using the hashtags #Because_I_am_a_man, #WorkingTogether and #Hit_ana_rajel
Originally posted on UN Women