By Manar al-Zubaidi, Diwaniyah
Iraq’s nurses deal with abusive patients and social pressure daily.
Just as they are in many countries, Iraq’s female nurses are overworked and underappreciated. But here, they also have to deal with the social stigma that comes with being a nurse, something that many Iraqis consider to be a man’s job.
Amal al-Badri, 59, wanted to be a nurse since she was a child and has now been in the job for around 43 years. She is the head of the nurses’ department at Diwaniyah Teaching Hospital and despite her seniority, still works in the wards there almost every day.
“I love this profession because it is a humanitarian service and we help everyone, not only patients in the hospital but friends, family and neighbours,” she explains.
Despite this goodwill, female nurses in Iraq are still much maligned and must deal with the social pressure that comes because many Iraqis still believe that nursing is a masculine pursuit.
Night shifts are particularly problematic in more conservative parts of the country. Rumours circulate suggesting that the female nurses engage in sexual relationships with male doctors during a night shift. This scurrilous stereotype has led Iraqi families to prevent their daughters from studying nursing.
“Some of my colleagues have to take a family member with them if they are on night duty,” al-Badri says, “or they won’t be allowed to work that shift.”
In some ways this is a good thing, she adds. “Because we are often subjected to verbal or physical harassment from patients and colleagues, which makes many younger nurses want to avoid any potentially problematic situations.”
Another issue that many Iraqi nurses, and also doctors, have to deal with are accusations of negligence when a patient dies. “We are often blamed for this, as though we are solely responsible for the death,” al-Badri says.
“We do our very best at work,” she concludes, “and sometimes we have to make an extra effort because of the lack of female colleagues. But still there is a social stigma to this job. Most of my colleagues have left the hospital, or they avoid the night shifts, so they can maintain their reputations in polite society. My personal sense of responsibility prevents me from sitting at home though. I know how important a nurse’s role in the hospital is.”