Sunday, June 21, 2020

How Iceland Beat the Pandemic Without Imposing a Lockdown

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Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland | Source: Robingileo via Wikimedia

Like the rest of the world, Iceland also has to face the COVID-19 situation. This European country of approximately 3.5 lakh population registered the first case of COVID-19 virus on the 1st March 2020 and the number of the infected hit a peak on the 5th May 2020. The active cases declining afterwards and on 24th of May there were only three active cases. Iceland’s response to COVID-19 has been widely lauded.

The country’s small population enabled extensive testing; instead of simply testing symptomatic or exposed people, also tested the general population. Along with the Icelandic health authorities, deCode Genetics, which is an organization committed to mapping and understanding the human genome, undertook the task of testing the general and non-symptomatic population for free. Consequently, Iceland has tested a higher portion of inhabitants than any other country, making it easier to trace how the infection spreads. There has been no lockdown imposed; however, the government has been taking measures to spread awareness for voluntary self-quarantine measures. The government also banned gatherings of more than 20 people on 24th of March which was relaxed to 200 from 25th of May.

The strategy followed by the government of Iceland was based on robust testing, contact tracing of infections, social distancing, increasing public’s awareness of hand-sanitation and voluntary self-quarantine, along with strict measures in healthcare institutions. Through effective contact tracing the healthcare workers were able to reach out to people who came in contact with COVID-19 infected people and recommend them to self-quarantine.

The government was very open in communicating with the citizens on the status of COVID-19 situation in the country. Half an hour long daily briefing on Iceland’s local response to the pandemic was relayed on the public’s screens for the past months until the 25th of May. The briefings were led by Þórólfur Guðnason, Alma Möller and Víðir Reynisson who are the Chief Epidemiologist, Director of Health and Director of Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management respectively.

Iceland has shown that robust testing regime, contact tracing, and clear communication to the public can be very effective in controlling the COVID-19 before it could turn into a pandemic.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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