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Inspiring Women Fighting COVID-19


This image is 135 years old. It is of three medical graduates namely Dr Anandabai Joshee from Seranysore, Kalyan (India), Dr Kei Okami from Tokyo (Japan) and Dr Tabat M. Islambooly from Damascus (Syria) respectively. They are posing for a picture during their education from the first women’s medical college in the world, the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), USA. They are the first women doctors from their respective countries, who are educated in a western country. Breaking all the social barriers and stereotype, they traveled far away from their homeland to learn medicine. After returning back, they helped and cured people in need. They became licensed doctors in the late 1800s, at a time when women in the United States still couldn't vote.


Today, the whole world is struggling against COVID-19 pandemic. Our doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaning staffs, scientists and many more professional are contributing day in and day out to defeat this invisible enemy. This workforce comprises of 70% women according to an analysis of 104 countries done by WHO in 2019. With tremendous respect and admiration for all our Brave-hearts, we would especially like to salute these three Women Doctors. These protagonists demolished the social stigma and paved the path for all the younger generation of women to come. The women who were either deprived of the same opportunities or were considered as weaker sexes. The women with heart of gold and stardust soul, who are now doctors, nurses, paramedics, virologist and are forming the majority of this global healthcare workforce to keep us safe. We believe that even if we catch the virus, they will bet on their last breathe to save us. They will help us to overcome this 21st-century epidemic. The valiant efforts of these women will play a vital role in reviving our economy and make it run on its leg again. They will silence this sea storm, so all our boats and ships can be stabilized and we can take them in our own directions once again. We can all go back to work again and our children can go back to their schools. The playgrounds, the cafes, the restaurants, the streets and the cinema hall are full again. The trains, the buses, the ships, the planes all can ply again and we can all go back to our normal life. We can live once more again.


So next time whenever we doubt a girl's or a women's ability and underestimate their talent, think about this current times and also about these three fearless doctors who triggered a gender revolution in the healthcare profession. The doctors who, when given the right opportunity, inspired other women to form a majority in the healthcare workforce today, to protect, heal and uplift us from these difficult times. Today, in the health institutions of most countries, these women are more than two-thirds in number working in various medical departments. They are giving a befitting response to the Coronavirus in every situation. We are indebted to these women wholeheartedly forever and extend our heartfelt greetings and gratitude to all those who are engaged in defeating the disease with full intensity.


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This image was an inspiration for my Fashion Master's Collection Thesis (Three Doctors - Reflecting identity) in Basel, Switzerland. When I observed this picture, in context with their clothing, I realized that they all are wearing something from their own heritage, from their own culture. They depict a strong and confident expression in their poses, giving a defined message about their identity and their non-conformist individuality. As if they are saying, ‘We don’t care what you think of us, neither do we agree with your norms, rules and conditions. We know who we are and we are proud of it’. Researching further about the attire of the three ladies in the picture, it is also quite prominent that they have immense respect for the origin they came from. They have chosen their attire very thoughtfully in this photo.


The Indian doctor Ms Anandabai Joshee is wearing a ‘Kanjivaram’ silk Saree with 3 quarter silk blouse, having hand-embroidered cuffs. She has bangles in both hands, a choker necklace, earrings and a ‘bindi’. Her hair is back brushed and bound together while one end of her Saree (Pallu in Hindi) is tied and fixed around the waist area as if she is ready for a task. This is a popular way of draping a Saree in the Maharashtra region of India. Indian women also drape and tie the Saree like this when they are ready for a task. They don't want the Saree to hinder them in their work. Apparently Dr. Joshee was the first women doctor in India trained in western medicine. In her proposal letter to the university, she wrote, "The determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way...The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail". After returning back to India, she was employed as the first female physician in charge of the female ward at Kolhapur's Albert Edward Hospital at the age of 19. Looking at her achievements at such a young age, there is a crater on Venus named after her.

Image Courtsey : Wikimedia


Her Japanese counterpart doctor Ms Kei Okami is wearing a menswear traditional Japanese clothing with a ‘Haori’ coat, ‘Montusuki’ kimono and ‘Hakama’ trousers (these clothes are worn on important ceremonies and special occasions by men). Her choices of clothes are giving us clear indications that she do not consider her lesser than any man. She had tied her hair together with a hairpin. She also seems to be wearing a ring in her ring finger on the left hand. After completion of her education in 1889, she returned back to Japan and served as a gynecologist and also treated people suffering from tuberculosis. She resigned because the Emperor, Meiji, refused her care because she was female. After that, she opened a home clinic and started operating from there. Later on, she worked as a vice-principal of a girls school and inspired her younger generation.


Moreover, the doctor from Syria Ms Tabat M. Islambooly is wearing a typical traditional Syrian Kaftan called ‘Thawb’ with a head cover. In the university, she was known to wear her dark, silk Kaftans. A Syrian Berber crown, worn on special ceremonies or on marriages is being tied around the head cover. Long chains with medallions are hanging down this crown, giving an impression of elaborated chandeliers. She is also adorning an elaborate necklace made of coins called 'Kir tan'. She has a playing instrument called 'Syrian Qanun' beside her. Some parts of her hair are coming out of the head cover in a proper arrangement as if she had given extreme attention to her outlook and how she would like to see herself. She is also wearing famous Syrian leather shoes. Her life after returning back is not so well documented. But it is known that she returned to work briefly in Damascus at the turn of the 20th century, then moved to Cairo in 1919, where she died in 1941. He descendants now live in Canada.


The clothing and the expression are so strongly portrayed in this image, that the nativeness of each individual is very obvious. They are quiet confident about, 'Who they are', 'Where they come from' and 'What they are doing'. They don't need our permission or confirmation to achieve anything in their life and be a role model. This image is a bold portrayal of young women defying all the conventional and orthodox ideas to show their true strength to the world. The strength that says we believe in ourselves. And as long as there is believe, anything is possible.


Thank you

Awneet Kumar

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