Even during a pandemic, female doctors are facing harassment

Even during a pandemic, female doctors are facing harassment

Where doctors are offering their services in a crisis like no other, some men are trolling them with vulgar messages.
Updated 04 May, 2020

Doctors across Pakistan and all over the world are on the frontlines during the coronavirus pandemic.

While a lot of them are working tirelessly in hospitals - isolating themselves from their families and risking their own lives - testing and treating patients, many have also volunteered their services to raise awareness and made themselves available to answer any concerns of civilians.

All around social media, folks are sharing their appreciation for medical workers, calling them heroes and warriors. Surely they're getting the respect they deserve, right?

Well, the male doctors are... Can't say the same for women.

Apparently, even a pandemic can't stop predators from harassing women in the medical field who are utilising their time to help those in need. And those doctors have had enough.

Yep, you got that right. Where doctors are talking about saving yourself from a dangerous virus, some men are trolling them with vulgar messages.

Imagine being a doctor and trying your best to help people, being made to waste precious time having to block/report numbers using such abusive language.

For female doctors, this is not a new case though, as Dr. Anza shared with Images.

"It starts right from when you join med school. If you mention it on your social media profile or even hint at it, the messages start pouring."

"What's weird is how they always start off in an eerily 'respectful' manner, saying 'Hello doctor sahiba' and then it goes off in a bad direction. Sometimes it's from other doctors - or people claiming to be doctors/med students."

Dr. Fizza* started facing problems after becoming a volunteer.

"I've been relatively under the radar so I hadn't really faced anything like what I had heard from fellow doctors," said Fizza.

"When the time came to volunteer, I joined in immediately, genuinely hoping to help as much as I can. But then came the attacks."

"Sometimes they would start off like a real patient but things would take a shift. And I'd ignore it a lot because I'd think, 'They’re just trolls', but sometimes the messages would be too graphic and come with pictures and videos that would just ruin my day. I knew of such things happening but seeing it for myself was depressing."

Fizza revealed that she also backed out of volunteering because it was too much to bear.

Aleeza*, the founder of an online telemedicine company, opened up more about the virtual harassment faced by her team. Her company has a team of female doctors who are digitally connected to patients that need healthcare.

"We have an app through which patients can directly connect with female doctors and have a consultation via chat, audio or video call," said Aleeza, adding that they face this issue a lot on the app, especially the past few months.

"Last Saturday, we made our app free for the coming three months so that people could use it during this pandemic, to ask about Covid-19 symptoms, screenings etc especially because of the lockdown and the load in hospitals, a person shouldn't have to go in just for a consultation."

"We made the app free to help people and every now and then, someone calls to say 'I love you' to a doctor who could be helping a person who needs it, saying 'Please talk to me', 'What are you doing', 'Tell me about yourself'. As soon as someone starts doing so, we block them. We've had enough to know how to deal with them now."

For this app and its doctors, the preparation came from a previous spammer attack. Aleeza revealed that they had been facing issues long before they made their app free. That's right, people paid to troll female doctors who just wanted to do their job.

"Around two months ago, we had a spammer attack where a number of men started calling all our doctors, booking their slots, which the doctor couldn't unbook for another patient and bombarding them with missed calls. The doctors couldn't see any other patients."

"Then those guys started having inappropriate conversations, sending vulgar pictures and porn site links within the session... Again, this was when the app wasn't even free. They were paying to do all this! I guess we did make good money from it."

Of course Aleeza and her team took immediate action to figuring it out and reducing the trolling.

"We reported it and added some checks and balance on our app after which it reduced significantly but they're still there."

Despite all the regulations, some problematic folks still get through, and while it may be a joke for some, the damage is quite deep for the people at this telemedicine company.

"I work with doctors who come back to work," explained Aleeza. "The main purpose of my company is to bring female doctors who've left the field back into the workforce. So many aspiring doctors end up quitting after marriage. It takes a lot for them to convince their family for why they need to come back to work even though this is a manageable way to do so."

"Some of my doctors actually said they can't do this because when they come back to work and they get this treatment, their family becomes very upset. During the spam attack, a lot of them got disturbed and demotivated."

She added, "We do our best to help our doctors but it's sad that we have to mentally prepare them for this. There should be more talk about this because a lot of hospitals are using telemedicine now. A lot of doctors especially female doctors will face this abuse."

According to Dr Tooba*, another who volunteered to help during the pandemic, calling out their behaviour doesn't work.

"They want a response out of you. Whether it's angry or complicit. They know no matter what they do and no matter how you response, you will bear the brunt of it all. That' the victim-blaming culture."

Tooba shared that her family got very concerned from the first time it happened.

However, she isn't backing down.

"I'm a vocal person, so the first time a guy started saying gross things, I was angry and was yelling at him. Thankfully, my family is understanding about such situations but they worry about me. I don't blame them, just like I don't blame the women who aren't volunteering anymore. It takes a toll on you."

Of course there are many like Tooba who are standing strong, getting work done despite all these hurdles. They're calling out the problematic behaviour and moving past it. But should they have to? Not at all.

We've normalised harassment so much that we expect this to happen and as a society, it's a nuisance to hear about such accounts. Too many times we've seen women post about what they face in their daily lives and some respond with "That's life" or "No need to make a hue." Guess what? When they aren't vocal, you deny it happening or restrict it to singular analogies.

It's about time we address such problems and for the love of humanity - the very humanity these doctors are trying to save - stop harassing women who are just trying to do their job.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


Zak Apr 02, 2020 10:07am
Government should set up a police cell which hunts down these abusive callers, once they are reported and their names, pictures ID should be published in newspapers and shown on TV.
Umar Apr 02, 2020 10:09am
Sickening. Please keep up the good work, and ignore such mentally sick people
Jaan Ali Apr 02, 2020 10:19am
Speechless ...
Imtiaz ul Haque Apr 02, 2020 10:34am
Think positive. Be positive. Do some creative work. Read your favorite books. Start writing something, it could be about yourself. Your school and schooling. Your life up till now-your education,your job. How do you spend your leisure time/sports. Your achievements in life so far. etc etc.
Imtiaz ul Haque Apr 02, 2020 10:35am
Already done. Has it gone ? No indication/confirmation ?
arslan_munir Apr 02, 2020 10:37am
Bunch of lunatics. They cannot appreciate the service. sad.
Ram Apr 02, 2020 10:37am
@Jaan Ali : Why are you surprised? That's the typical attitude of men in India and Pakistan. Even women doing a critical job at a critical time is first viewed as a potential object of their lust/"friendship". Disgraceful, but true.
Hamza Apr 02, 2020 10:39am
As a man i apologize to all women facing harrassment. I am soo sorry this has to happen to you without any repercussions for the harrassers. When will the government make an example out of these people?
Aves Apr 02, 2020 10:41am
Dr, You might encounter such people in every walk of life. Learn to deal with persons instead putting your step back. We need you in fight against this pandemic.
Sabir Apr 02, 2020 10:50am
In my opinion, we have a huge population of uneducated people in our country which is the main cause of these social evils. No matter how much someone try to highlight such issues in available medias, the masses wouldn't even able to get it. Govt. should impose education emergency in country so that we may curb these evils in coming 10 years period. We have to set our priorities right as a nation.
HAA Apr 02, 2020 10:55am
There is no such thing as 'friendship' between unrelated men and women. Men who start such interactions should be held responsible in the same way a woman would be held responsible if she started this kind of interaction.
Syed Irfan Ali Apr 02, 2020 10:57am
Can't believe what I just read. Who to blame for this sick mentality? Do these type of men respect their own family's women or ....?
Hassan Apr 02, 2020 10:57am
Where are the people like khalilur rahman who unnecessarily propagate manhood in Pakistan. Shame on them
UT Apr 02, 2020 10:59am
How difficult is this by the way for organisers to go behind at least 2-3 of them by tracing their locations and put them behind bars. Advertise their responses and everyone will be in their clothes. They can also setup a screening team which can route the genuine cases to doctors.
Fahad Apr 02, 2020 11:06am
I guess Pakistanis deserve noble prize for their contribution to humanity. What kind of parents must they have? I guess the answer is that their parents were only concerned with bringing them to the world rather than grooming them. What a shame.
Tahir Raouf Apr 02, 2020 11:13am
We as nation lost our dignity even in such dire situation where medics are helping the people at the cost of their own lives. I don’t have the words to express my feelings
atique Apr 02, 2020 11:21am
From their english typing, one can easily understand that these are illiterate people. Education is the only solution to cope with this issue.
SN Apr 02, 2020 11:24am
What does it take for the perverts of this country to stop harassing women?? If a global health crisis won't stop them either, do we have any hope?
Orakzai Apr 02, 2020 11:27am
Stop work Do protest
Khan Apr 02, 2020 11:35am
Call all the callers who harass to the police station. Photograph them with only their under wears on their bodies. Show it to their wives & parents. (children keep away). Warn them, if they repeat, the photos will go in news papers, magazines, social media and electronic media. Period. I am sure it will not happen again. If it happens, do the above & punish them.
Hamid Apr 02, 2020 11:37am
When as a nation we will grow. This sick and lewd mentally has to be stopped. We are running out of time.
Bala Apr 02, 2020 11:44am
This is the mentality of the society
Ali Vazir Apr 02, 2020 11:58am
Two things important to mention here in our society. One is terrible lack of justice. Second terrible demand for justice and follow up. Have all of it recorded, get it reported and follow it up through your organization/association to bring these harassers to book. A few good examples of punishment will have lasting effect on future bold messages. Don't give up.
Dr Vikas Jamwal Apr 02, 2020 12:00pm
Heartbreaking, really.
Compulsive Apr 02, 2020 12:12pm
Assad Raza Apr 02, 2020 12:28pm
Focus on the job you are supposed to do and ignore these things. BTW nation gave you too much now its asking for real service back. So leave your cell phone alone and be on the work. Assad Raza British Columbia, CA.
Ahsan Apr 02, 2020 12:35pm
Tell this to Khalil ur Rehman Qamar
AVOID chaoticism Apr 02, 2020 12:44pm
totally speechless and embarrassed to see some guys of our nation are like that. We really need education, of dignity and self-respect.
Cris Dan Apr 02, 2020 12:47pm
@HAA there can indeed be a friendship between a man and a woman . Friendship is a bond based upon sincerity and mutual thinking irrespective of gender .
Justice Apr 02, 2020 12:52pm
Too bad..
Anwar Apr 02, 2020 01:08pm
The female doctors attending to patients, either virtually or in healthcare facilities, deserve the utmost respect. The harassers seem to have extra time on their hands due to COVID-19 lockdown and the only solution seems to be reporting them to FIA cybercrime cell. Until and unless some culprits are publicly prosecuted, this harassment will only increase in terms of furor. Additionally, we need stringent cybercrime legislation to encourage the best possible use of technology.
Awais Apr 02, 2020 01:09pm
Not sure why ladies think that they gonna find sane people around. Such beasts are all over the place
Adnan Khan Apr 02, 2020 01:39pm
I think one way to fight this is by making our Females(Mother, sisters, daughters and wife) more vocal. They are always scared to speak up and because of this males take advantage. We should have mandatory classes in school and university for girls to speak up for themselves.
Talha Apr 02, 2020 01:57pm
Report to FIA
ISHAQ SOHAG Apr 02, 2020 02:22pm
Not only doctors. There are some sick people who don't even leave old ladies. Unfortunately, this has become a norm of Pakistani society.
Imran Apr 02, 2020 02:27pm
Shameless creatures
sameer Apr 02, 2020 02:40pm
There are many good men around, who respect female as equal person, respect and encourage their contribution in work place and life. There are sick men in all the societies, the problem in our society is aggravated by lack of education, and also cultural barriers. Because of some sick men one should not give up the noble work of helping people in need, instead such sick people to be send to mental hospital for treatment.
sameer Apr 02, 2020 02:42pm
@Ahsan Is he running moral police? you are sick as the people doing harassment!
Bikram Apr 02, 2020 02:42pm
Is this the reason that everybody was opposing the aurat march. It’s shame when people opposing aurat March are made heroes by public.
Health Cabinet Apr 02, 2020 02:46pm
Getting the most effective medical care from your doctor's potential requires navigating a fancy relationship inside the couple of minutes you will have throughout a typical workplace go to. Some could say these are unrealistic constraints, however, they’re widespread. Lots of people are usually not glad for their doctor. The causes could vary from ready too lengthy to be seen to what sufferers deem to be ineffective remedies. Whatever the case may be. After parents, I think Doctors (even male or female Doctors) are minor Gods They are always ready to help. I really salute them.
Urooj Zaidi Apr 02, 2020 02:48pm
Agreed. Did the right thing.
bbb Apr 02, 2020 03:01pm
Why not take the personal info of each patient so that they can keep in check what they say. You can even shame them when you know their personal details. Fear is the only way to control them. No way you can expect them to behave otherwise.
khalid Apr 02, 2020 04:08pm
Dear sister, thanks for bringing this up. Most women in Pakistan would just shut up and that encourages these dogs even more. Ashamed to be a Pakistani. Ashamed to be a Muslim. and ashamed to be a man. There is nothing that will stop Pakistani men from sinking so low. I wonder if they have any respect for their own mothers, sisters and daughters.
Usama Niz Apr 02, 2020 04:12pm
I would like to urge the developers of this App to make it a part of their Terms and Conditions that anyone found harassing or making lewd innuendo towards female Doctors will be referred for criminal action. The developers should also reach out to FIA's NR3C to develop liaison for reporting such cases in future. A warning of such offensive behaviour also be displayed to deter such predators. I will urge the developers to please consider reaching out to FIA's NR3C as cyber harassment is a crime under PECA 2016.
syed Apr 02, 2020 04:15pm
@Ram i am totally agreed with your statement we are Eager for lust because of not good social training and no check and balance over children from growing age.
Syed Apr 02, 2020 04:15pm
That's the quality of education (tarbiyyat) we give to our nation.
M. Saeed Apr 02, 2020 04:17pm
Highly deplorable! Government should reinforce its arms of anti-cyber crimes and allow them intercept and discipline such vultures in a manner that stops them for good.
Pakistani Apr 02, 2020 04:39pm
Disgraceful. The Government should arrest these idiots and make an exceptional example of them. The problem is the police, legal profession and govt officials simply do not take harassment seriously. They now have the names and contact details of the harassers. They should feel the full force of the law and be publicly shamed and used as an example to rid this menace from society
M. Emad Apr 02, 2020 06:51pm
70% Pakistani working women face harassment at workplaces.
Ehsan Apr 02, 2020 06:57pm
Be strong and continue the fights otherwise we harassers have won.
faisal basheer Apr 02, 2020 07:32pm
Khawar qaum sickening what a shame morale decay in Pakstanis
Seedoo Apr 02, 2020 07:36pm
There is a fine line between approaching someone and harassing someone. Often the women in our country do not know and they mistaken a simple expression of interest for harassment, while in other cases men do not know when they cross the limits of decency. Bottom line, there is a lot of pent up sexual energy in our people (especially men) due to segregation being practiced for generations and people simply do not know how to express their interest in opposite sex properly.
DEAN Apr 02, 2020 08:57pm
so sad. A task force should be set up anyone found behaving unprofessionally even doctors should be struck off.
Hasan Apr 02, 2020 09:00pm
This is infuriating!
St. Mercury Apr 02, 2020 09:15pm
Some men have no class. That's how they are brought up.
Fairguy Apr 02, 2020 09:20pm
@Ahsan He has solutions for every problem.
Anon Apr 02, 2020 09:27pm
@atique Both doctor and patient style is the same and sounds Indian.
Fairguy Apr 02, 2020 09:30pm
Dear Doctors, The appropriate response would be to tell them curtly to visit a Psychiatrist for mental and psychological evaluation. That same guy will not feel like calling you again.
Bashir Apr 02, 2020 09:30pm
Some people do not use social media properly. They think it is an opportunity to flirt with someone.
mansard Apr 02, 2020 09:52pm
this is not a ' let-go ' thing- its a crime and a very grave crime and must be dealt with.
Irfan ul Huq Apr 02, 2020 10:09pm
Anyone at any profession expects to be treated professionally. Sexual harassment should be treated according to the law Several months ago a video was in circulation where the chairman of Nab was making sexual remarks and harassing a client. It has been seven months since nothing has been done. It is the duty of the government either prove that the video was hoax and doctored and in. and send it either to Scotland Yard and prove that or if the video is what it shows then the person should be removed immediately and brought to the law and justice be served. Him being in that position is the most dangerous thing we have today .
Gulshan Omar Apr 02, 2020 10:23pm
My birth country Pakistan, I am so sorry that is rushing towards Kyamat. The statement of Ms Biya Ali Zaib is a concrete proof of this. Guys, you have no economy, economically you can not stand without charity, why you guys are destroying the moral fabric? George Bernard Shaw said accurately that “at the time of decay the base ( low moral people) succeeds”.
Shahid Apr 02, 2020 11:02pm
These type of sick minds are very where, also here in the west.
UFO Apr 03, 2020 03:01am
Instead of reporting to police, the doc reported it to media. Seems too fishy and cooked up
Illawarrior Apr 03, 2020 06:00am
@SN What it takes is widespread attitudinal change. This won't happen quickly, but it can happen. It requires a multifaceted approach comprising legislation, enforcement, public awareness campaigns, mixed gender schools, public figures modelling behaviours that reflect better attitudes. Yes, it will take 2-3 generations, so start now.
SAYED JEHAN Apr 03, 2020 06:19am
@Umar . There are strict rules about sexual harassment in US. Your employer will fire you right away if any female worker reports you. Every employee is required to read the rules and the law about sexual harassment and sign the book after reading it . I am a retired physician and I know of several physicians that got fired from their jobs due to harassing female staff .Even having strict rules, education and harsh punishment it is still a problem in this country. I am sure this is not the first time that Dr Zaib encounter this kind of behavior and I will encourage her to ignore these sociopath and continue to help your brother and sisters in this terrible time
Umair Apr 03, 2020 07:40am
This is bound to happen, people will be mentally sick when there is no arts, museum, lack of sports facilities, people don't read and no recreational. All they see is brainless talk shows and criticism. Youth got phones and internet and using it for all the wrong reasons.
Mumtaz Ahmed Shah Apr 03, 2020 11:28am
Shameless creatures.(Texas)
Janaan Apr 03, 2020 11:43am
Male doctors se male patients aur female se female patients deal krwao,
Zain Apr 03, 2020 01:09pm
Please make the numbers and details public. this is just intolerable! and where the hell is the cyber crime cell?
Ibrahim S Apr 03, 2020 10:27pm
They main issue with both gender is that their interactions fir the major part of their life is either with immediate family member or their spouses . There are not used to conversing with opposite gender in any other capacity . Interestingly those of use we went through co-Ed schools didn’t have this problem . In our eyes they’re are person , not men or women . Not sure desi specifically men could digest this notion
Kumar(Varanasi) Apr 04, 2020 01:38pm
They need Danda treatment.
Laila Apr 05, 2020 01:39pm
This is beyond desperate and should have legal repercussions. It is not possible to get a Pakistani a Pakistani simcard without registering an official ID. So each of these mobile numbers should be traced, their harassment documented and made subject of FIRs, the ID holder should be confronted, rheir families and guardians be informed, the culprits name and photo released to the media/public and there should be some jail time involved. This is the only deterrent that will work and have far reaching repercussions.
Laila Apr 06, 2020 04:40am
This is beyond desperate and should have legal repercussions. It is not possible to get a Pakistani a Pakistani simcard without registering an official ID. So each of these mobile numbers should be traced, their harassment documented and made subject of FIRs, the ID holder should be confronted, rheir families and guardians be informed, the culprits name and photo released to the media/public and there should be some jail time involved. This is the only deterrent that will work and have far reaching repercussions.
Laila Apr 06, 2020 05:49pm
This is beyond desperate and should have legal repercussions. It is not possible to get a Pakistani simcard without registering an official ID. So each of these mobile numbers are linked to an national ID, they should be traced, their harassment documented a me registered, made subject of FIRs, the ID holder should be confronted, their families, should be informed, the culprits name and photo released to the media/public and there should be some jail time involved. This is the only deterrent that will work and have consequences.
DANIYAL May 10, 2020 03:28pm
Great by Government to provide harassers a platform to tease medical persons. Shame on these people