TESTING TIMES

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Melburnian Indian women fight against COVID-19 in the most positive spirit and give tips on how to cope with the crisis. The government of Victoria has taken stringent measures to curb this menace, one of them being social isolation. A crisis exposes many things but the positive to the current situation is the resilience being shown by everyone, particularly women. We asked women from different professional backgrounds whether women have a greater responsibility or impacted more during this, what are the unintended consequences of staying at home and what messages they would like to share with others in coping with this unprecedented situation. Hear out.

ARVI WALIA, Works at the Australian Tax Office and as a side hustle organises ‘Kidz Got Talent’ each year.
I believe women always have a greater responsibility regardless of what the situation is. Yes, women are greatly impacted and challenged during this tough time. However, their drive to keep the family safe and to keep the household running will help them embrace and adapt to the change.
Working from home is challenging as you are required to manage work around managing kids. Staying at home requires us to come up with creative ideas to keep kids busy. Rethinking our ways of doing things, excessive munching, feeling isolated and missing seeing friends are some of the many unintended consequences.
Firstly, I would like you to take a moment to appreciate your hard work. Give yourself space and time to readjust. Keep yourself away from unnecessary social media posts and messages, only rely on facts and information from reliable authorities and sources. Focus on things you can control, get creative and do things that you always wanted to do around your home. It is extremely therapeutic.
Listen to podcasts, exercise with yoga videos, cook from recipe book and attempt guided meditation. If we cannot go outside, let’s make time to go inside and be bit more mindful and grateful for everything.

CHANDANA BRIJESH, Performer, Choreographer & Founder of Sindhubhairavi Centre for Indian Arts and Culture.
A woman is a beautiful combination of strength and elegance. Her inherent qualities of intuition and empathy make her the responsible person of the family. She is adept at managing professional and personal tasks efficiently. Thus, at times of crisis, she naturally embraces the onus of her family’s wellbeing. At this juncture, when the members of the family are together with a threat lurking, the responsibility of keeping them physically healthy and psychologically positive becomes her prerogative.
Staying home together and spending time with all members of the family certainly help in creating a lasting bond as long as the friction that could develop is diligently managed and minimised. Increased hours of domestic work, schedules going off time, managing multiple streams of tasks and handling the emotions of the family would take its toll and would lead to her feeling exhausted and insecure. This could trigger arguments and mutual invectives and worsen the situation.
This is the best time for you to know your strengths and work on the areas of improvement. Be gentle and caring to your family, yet firm and assertive.
The next few weeks are yours! Let’s utilise this opportunity to transform ourselves into better beings. This could also be the right time to know a bit more about your husband that you had missed out on all these years. Be a part of the refreshing world of your children and utilise the day inculcating values to them and guiding them to becoming responsible citizens.

DHEEPA AWTANI, Founder & Creative Director of Babydelaw & Banking Professional.
I believe women are walking on water right now and, that too, very gracefully. It is with utmost strength that we are able to balance our work life and keeping the environment safe at home.
Many times, children are not aware of how the globe has got engulfed with Covid-19 nor do they understand the interaction points of the same. It gets absolutely critical to master the art of conveying about the same but to upsurge the energy and keep them entertained in many different ways. More so, as many of us work from home too to keep the economy and our house going, it is a grand juggle to manage all with positivity. Some women have the added responsibilities of providing an extra hand to their partners in the business. I know of some others whose husbands or partners were recently overseas for a business trip and are under self-isolation – living separately in motels while the wife manages home, work from home and children at home.
While it can be also seen as a decent opportunity for woman entrepreneurs to tune up their business via social media and e-commerce, the situation does come with its cons.
A big shout out to all women out there in the world. Don’t worry about your gait while you are walking but your endearing strength with which you channel your family and community is absolutely spectacular.

GAGAN KAUR, Entrepreneur, retail, Classy & Trendy and Housewife.
During times as such, women are working on the frontline. A study suggests, globally 70 per cent of women are frontline health care workers such as nurses, doctors and many more. Apart from the professional role, women also work at home and they are more burdened to take care of the family and relatives who are sick.
Facts suggest that the virus transmission is higher between family members who are under same roof and the risk worsens during pregnancy especially at this time when you are under home isolation. It becomes more difficult when you are a health care worker.
We need to stay calm, educate our children about the virus and follow all the protective measures religiously suggested by the authorities. It’s tough times ahead and I am sure we will all sail through. Remember self-care is not selfish and wear your mask first before helping others.
The sudden change to life can be overwhelming but it is the time to support one another and reach out via phone calls, texts or emails. Connecting with family and friends can always be comforting and mentally and emotionally fulfilling. Sometimes people may not always reach out, but it is always OK to be the first one to pick up the phone and ask, “Are you OK?”

HAFFSAH BILAL, Entrepreneur, Business Owner at Lajeen Boutique Salon.
Setting the rules within the household and passing these onto the children does seem to be a bigger responsibility to be fulfilled by the woman of the house. Staying home would bring the family together and maybe better for bonding amongst each other giving us a much-needed break we at times need. However, it does come with financial strain.
This is not a permanent situation; it is hard for some however it is short term so hang in there but at the same time make the most of it. Think of it as bonding time with your loved ones. This is an opportunity to bond as a family, plan a schedule such as inculcating hobbies, exercising and so on. True, children will miss their routine and connection with friends, but parents can help young children feel productive by making them develop hobbies such as cooking together and all the above mentioned. Children are wired for experimentation and there are also long-term gains out of it. Keep them informed at the same time about what is going on so that they develop an understanding about the gravity of the whole situation. Life in the times of coronavirus is tough but when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

HUSNA PASHA, Media Personality & Business Owner of Pashanet Speaking and Alisha’s Catering.
As a previous health professional (Occupational Therapist), I would say that the number of Allied Health Professionals, including nurses, social workers, etc. are predominantly female leaving them at risk of infection themselves. And let’s face it, whilst my husband is extremely hands on and I’m lucky that we equally contribute to the needs of our children, there will be a lot of women that will have to take on more responsibilities for home care, homeschooling of their children as well as still maintaining their careers and finding time to manage their own self-care needs.
I can really speak out to woman who has careers and are now staying at home. The pressures of balancing work, children and general isolation is going to be difficult and ensuring there is enough for children to do without turning to iPad is going to be challenging.
My advice to both stay-at-home and working mums is to take this time to appreciate what we have. Feel privileged and powerful that you are capable of handling what the world has asked us to face and the busier you are, the chances are your life is blessed. Take this time to reinvent yourself so you can remain resilient in times of such drastic change. I know that if I have my health and my family, then the challenges will always be worth it.

DR MANJULA O’CONNOR, Psychiatrist & Executive Director of Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health.
The stressful time of self-isolation has brought many challenges. First of all, caring for our family is the responsibility of both men and women. If you do catch COVID-19 infection, you need to have good immunity to fight it. Give your family plenty of fresh healthy foods such as eggs, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin, carrots, dals, peas and nuts.
There’s also the physical isolation but also family members are together for prolonged periods in the home. This can lead to increased stress, fear and violence; financial losses will add to stress. Women and children exposed to those addicted to alcohol and illicit substances could be more at risk.
Some women use work to escape abuse at home. Their enforced isolation with perpetrators will bring a greater risk of violence.
The inability to escape the stressful situation can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and panic attacks. If you fear for your, dial 000.
If feeling trapped, anxious, panic attacks, feelings of helplessness or suicidal, speak to Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 or 1800 Respect.
Write a diary with self-reflection. Do meditation and yoga to lower stress levels. Use the time as holiday and family bonding time. Cook great food with your children and partner. Avoid excessive alcohol.

MOLINA ASTHANA, Commercial Lawyer & board member of various organisations.
Women are generally saddled with more responsibility in the times of crisis as often it is the woman staying back home to look after the family. In patriarchal societies, she is also the one doing most of the housework and looking after the children. If anyone gets sick, she will be the one looking after as well and more likely than not she will ignore her own ill health. She will also be responsible for entertaining and home educating the kids.
Women are also impacted negatively during these times. Instances of family violence are going up with families confined to their homes and frustration rising due to the financial implications of the virus. As with all stressful situations where the woman is the first victim of a man’s anger, same is the case in the present circumstances.
Besides boredom, mental health issues may arise due to limited social interaction and cabin fever. If people are not proactive, physical health and fitness may also become an issue.
Look after yourself first only then you can look after others. Social distancing means physical distancing, but you can still stay connected with family and friends over phone and video chats. Keep exercising and eat healthy. If there is any incidence of family violence report to the police immediately.

PRABHAT SANGWAN, Media & Culture Officer, Consulate General of India Melbourne, Mental Health Volunteer-MANAS.
Women have more responsibility now in terms of cooking, cleaning, passing the habits of good hygiene and emphasising on maintaining it. But because men are paid more and seen as breadwinners, people typically think it is fine for the wives to stay home and look after children. This should not be the case in an ideal world. Today, we have moved forward enough to view both parents as equal with regards to taking care of children who are staying home. This is a shared responsibility.
Unintended consequences could be the boredom first kicking in. Lack of exercise will be another factor for a person like me, so I need to find new ways to remain active. Others could experience anxiety arising from fear of the unseen.
I never worked from home, but I am looking forward to it and taking it on a positive note as it will save me from the worries of bringing the virus home.
Do not worry too much. Be aware. If you are getting too anxious, write down your worry and draft your plan for it. Writing is an essential tool that eases stress.
Follow the govt guidelines. It’s the time for self-reflection, time to connect with yourselves and time to take a break from the rush of life. Follow hand hygiene, it is the most important thing we can do at this time to save the human race.

RIYA KAUR, Full-time Housewife.
Yes, I think women have much greater responsibility during this time. Ensuring there is ample food in the house is important, especially because the supermarkets are running out of the essentials and it is often hard to track down the necessities. Both my daughters are not going to university or school during this time and it has increased my responsibilities a lot taking care of them and making sure there is a positive environment in the house.Our family loves going out and trying new restaurants and experiencing new things. Because of the coronavirus, we have been completely isolating ourselves by staying at home except for the necessities such as visiting supermarkets. Sometimes it causes a lot of boredom staying at home, except we are watching a lot of movies and cooking new dishes to help us through this time!Enjoy the family time and learn new things to cook. Take on a new project and enjoy the idea of learning something new every day. I am not taking things for granted and isolation time has made me appreciate the little things in life. For instance, having full shelves of food and it makes me that much more grateful and appreciative for the things we do have.

DR SONIA CHEEMA, Director of Student Services, St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox College.
The parent community in my college is definitely getting prepared for online learning modules in this time of lockdowns and social distancing. Mothers are not only involved in getting themselves ready for such technical challenges but also prepared for normal household work on top of children staying home. Females who are elder siblings to students, aunties or grandparents have to cater for this social distancing challenge by taking care of younger ones at home and keeping them on tasks as requested by their colleges.
The impact is definitely wider on each and every individual, but females are bombarded with extra burden of taking care of their children who are bound to stay at home either due to poor health or school closure.
The consequences of staying home can be detrimental if it continues for longer period of time. It will impact children’s social and emotional wellbeing along with their physical health. For parents, it may create pressure of organising activities for children to keep them engaged, supervising their learning without an appropriate teaching support, catering variety in meals despite pressure on groceries at supermarkets and then maintaining their own social and emotional health.
As an educator, I suggest and encourage women to do the following things more: connect with friends and loved ones through video and phone calls, emails. Stick to authenticated sources of information via health education websites rather than misinformation on social media.

TANVI MOR, Public Servant & Founder, Mor Events.
In current times, I strongly believe that it comes down to each one of us as a social and moral responsibility to do the right thing. Even at homes, this is not a time where only women of the house take charge. Each member of the household needs to work together and ensure that we are protecting ourselves and our families. Woman may get more affected because of our complex biological system especially if we are pregnant. Having said that, vulnerable men with any health problems would equally possess high risk.
Social isolation won’t be easy. As simple as it looks, it is not, especially for people who are dependent on others for their daily chores. It is demanding as it is asking us to suppress our natural impulse for connection. It is disrupting how we go about our lives under normal circumstances and it will undoubtedly have huge impact on mental and physical health. All of us will face some challenges but anyone who is already going through depression, loneliness, substance abuse, or other health problems is going to be particularly vulnerable.
I strongly believe we women are very resilient. This is the time to hold ourselves together. Use the technology at its best to connect with your loved ones, other women and support each other. Pick up the phone and reach out if you need assistance. Most importantly, make that ‘me time’ which you had always longed for.

TINA NARAYAN, Head of Strategy and Compliance – Insurance Life Pty Ltd.
During these trying times, nearly every Australian household has been impacted to some degree. Social media viral fake messages have had a further impact on our strong social and civic values and constant media scrutiny on a daily basis have only increased the stress of managing our day to day lives.
I have noticed many of my female friends have either lost their jobs or are being phased out due to the crises. Staying at home and social distancing is the only way forward to help stem the spread of this disease. Stress, anxiety, fear of the unknown for our loved ones are some of the unintended consequences of staying at home. To be socially isolated really feels intimidating at times but it is necessary if we were to successfully fight this pandemic.
My message to all other women going through this tough period is to viral fight instead of viral fright by following the guidelines as issued by our Federal and state governments. Look after the personal hygiene of yourself and the family and stay in your home. Please don’t educate yourself on false social media messages and stay alert and informed on every directive from the government. Avoid panic buying and hoarding as there is enough to go around for all Australians. Let’s show the true Aussie spirit and unite together to fight off this pandemic.

DR VANITA SHARMA, Deputy Chair, Complementary Health SkillsIQ Department of Education and Training Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine.
Roughly 70 per cent of the global healthcare workforce is made up of women, as per WHO. Women in healthcare professions also have responsibility to take care of parents and school-aged children. The one thing I would say as a health care worker is when people run away from the tragedy, we are moving towards it to help and support the community as physicians, nurses or support workers to keep everyone safe.
Social distancing, while crucial, can have unintended consequences. Social isolation can increase the risk of a variety of health and mental health problems, including heart disease, depression and dementia. That may be because social contacts can buffer the negative effects of stress. People of all ages are susceptible to the ill effects of social isolation and loneliness.
A downturn in the economy and job losses have added to the sense of fear in the community. During times of heightened stress or financial hardships, we are likely to see the rate of domestic violence increase.
My message to the community not only to women: be positive and don’t take this as ‘self-isolation’ but as a time for ‘self-reflection’. Self-reflection empowers us to learn from our mistakes, grow through challenges, and consciously progress on the path leading towards where we really want to be.


(As told to The Indian Weekly)