IT is no doubt that gender hierarchy exist in African cultures. Women are forced to show deference and honour to their male counterparts who normally eat the most meat in the house and sit on the most comfortable chair. Men dominate the public spheres of life and when there is a meeting for the dreaded Ebola disease it is expected to be male dominated, giving women little or no voice on the epidemic even though they are the greatest sufferers in it all.
For instance when Ebola broke out in Uganda and Congo in the 90s women face more intense stigmatization than men and were crucially less likely than men to have resources to purchase medication while sick with Ebola. While the women from both countries had knowledge about the indigenous concepts of the disease, Congolese women did not have proper understanding of the biomedical cultural model of the disease due to gender hierarchy.
As primary care providers both at home and in the hospital especially in provincial areas, women are more likely to contact the Ebola virus. In Sierra Leone, first lady Sia Koroma confirmed that since the outbreak, more women have been affected by Ebola with a prevalence rate of 59% for women to 41% for men.
Women dominate the health sector in Sierra Leone as we have more female nurses than male. Women suffer both as health workers and as care providers at home. Female nurses have been asked to leave their rented apartments as a result of Ebola. Some have been called names such as ‘nurse Ebola’. Neighbours, families and friends have isolated female nurses as a result of Ebola. Some nurses have lost relationships because of the outbreak. They are isolated by the same society they seek to protect from the dreaded disease. In addition, 70% of the health workers died so far from Ebola have been women.
Female survivors have been ostracised by communities, families and friends. In Conakry, Guinea, 26 years old Kadiatou; a medical intern was dumped by her boyfriend while even her own family refused to eat or touch her months after surviving Ebola. Even a certificate of health declaring her free from the haemorrhagic fever could not help Kadiatou out. Her Medical School could not accept her back. “Ebola has ruined my life”, she told the Associated Press adding that “No one wants to be in her company for fear of contaminating the disease”.
Our communities have a very high illiteracy rate and this backed by insufficient sensitization on the Ebola fever is only worsening the situation for our already vulnerable female group. The disease has killed over a 1000 people in West Africa and the World Health Organization believe it could escalate because of inadequate measures that is being taken to tackle the outbreak. The misconception about Ebola is high. Many do not believe that people could survive it especially so as senior medical practitioners have succumb to the disease.
However, for male survivors it is easier for them to be accepted back by their families and communities unlike women who suffer same fate.20 year old Sierra Leonean, Sulaiman Kemokai on surviving Ebola was accepted back by his family most of whom survived the virus but his mother.
An Ambulance driver in Bo Southern Sierra Leone that used to pick up Ebola patient from houses had to quit his job because of the taunting and prejudice that the job brings.
Even after the Ebola outbreak, authorities would have to engage the public in a lengthy sensitization and education to wipe out misconception and alienation of Ebola survivors and Ebola Care providers. But at this moment; the peak of the Ebola outbreak, the suffering of women has only worsen.