Female nurses shave heads for coronavirus fight, sparking 'discrimination' debate

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/18 18:07:00

Marks caused by masks are seen on the face of a medical worker at Fuzhou Pulmonary Hospital of Fujian in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, Jan. 31, 2020. The hospital is a designated hospital for the treatment of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus, equipped with two floors of isolation wards as well as 8 doctors and 34 nurses working round the clock. (Photo by Wang Yi/Xinhua)

A video of a group of female medical staff having their heads shaved before joining the mission in the coronavirus outbreak epicenter of Hubei Province has sparked controversy, with some netizens suspecting that it was an insult to women. Others said they believe the frontline medical staff have the last say in whether they were voluntarily doing this. 

Local media reported that the Gansu Provincial Maternity and Childcare Hospital sent a 15-member team to Hubei on Saturday, with the eldest being 37 and the youngest 26. Fourteen in the team are women and had their heads shaved to "better protect themselves." In the video, several female nurses sitting in front of cameras had their long hair shaved down to the scalp, many shedding tears as they did so.

"In ancient times, Hua Mulan joined the army for her father. Today, our hospital is going to war for the people. You have stood up for the happiness of the people, the prosperity of the nation, and carried out your mission with loyalty," Qiu Jie, the director of the hospital, said at the ceremony before they left for Hubei Province. 

A member of staff from the hospital said shaving the hair off was the voluntary choice of those nurses, and the hospital did not force them to do so. Shaving the hair off will reduce the chances of being infected and also makes it easier to clean, Hongxing news affiliated with Chengdu Business Daily reported. 

Loose hair can be infused with aerosol and is susceptible to infection, the staff member said.

A Weibo user claiming to be familiar with the issue said that "Some nurses only shaved part of their hair to begin with, but found it was still difficult to put on a hat, that's why they decided to shave it all off."   

After the video went viral, some netizens claimed that the nurses had been forced to cut all their hair, and shooting the video was merely an act of formalism, with many asking if there were no better solutions. Other netizens commented that they could choose to cut their hair short, like their male colleagues. Some even said that forcing them to shave their heads was an insult to women.

A viral WeChat article commented that the nurses' tears had been used to "impress audiences" and "the fact that behind their tears is probably the word 'no' was totally ignored."

However, many netizens said such accusations were too extreme, and there was no need for the public to overreact to the video, as it was only the nurses who knew best why they shaved their hair, and netizens should not make random assumptions. 

"I don't think their sad expressions were evidence of their resistance to being shaved. It's not easy to say goodbye to your hair when you have never been bald in your life," a netizen argued. Another said, "I believe shaving the hair off is for their own good. But the hospital using the scene as a news stunt is too much and just for show."

A nurse who worked in a Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan told the Global Times on Tuesday on condition of anonymity that long hair can easily come out of protective outfits and be exposed. Cutting off  long hair in a quarantine ward will help to maintain hygiene and prevent them from getting infected.

Many male and female medical team members, including those from Shanghai's Huashan Hospital and Changsha's Xiangya Hospital, shaved their heads before going to Wuhan.

More than 50 percent of doctors and more than 90 percent of frontline nurses are women, according to China National Radio, citing the Shanghai Women's Federation. 

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