Fabeha Monir works as a visual journalist and is based in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka. Her body of work is largely focused on stories exploring the refugee crisis, gender violence, migration, social development and issues of marginalized communities. Fabeha’s storytelling has a human aspect to it. The way she intimately conveys the stories of people and communities through visuals is a testament of her diverse portfolio. She has covered various emergencies in the past, which include reporting the floods, cyclones, earthquakes and fire tragedies. Fabeha is now keeping a close watch on the coronavirus outbreak in Bangladesh. The Coalition For Women In Journalism got in touch with Fabeha to ask about her experience of covering COVID-19. Scroll down to read more.
CFWIJ: Tell us about your experience of covering COVID-19 in Bangladesh so far?
Fabeha: This is everyone’s fight now. The fear and grief that people are holding is contagious too. I have covered all major disasters that hit us in the past, but nothing like this before. When we covered cyclones, floods, fire tragedies, earthquakes, violent protests, I knew that I might lose my life in any of those events. None of that bothered me much because there was no chance of others suffering because of me. Seeing people suffer, face isolation and fight a deadly virus is unimaginable.
As a female journalist, I have immense access to the lives of women in our part of the world. Violence against women has increased, homeless women and children are in greater danger, transgenders, sex workers, and the refugee community are suffering from this crisis. I am not on the ground to just report on the deadly deaths and diseases. We need to continue our reportage highlighting the fight of the vulnerable who have no access to isolation or safety. In any system of oppression, the most vulnerable will always suffer the most and be heard the least. This is why we have to continue our job on the ground.
What is the situation of coronavirus cases in Bangladesh?
It takes a long time for us to understand that we are all in this fight, together. In a city of 20 million inhabitants in Dhaka, isolation is an impossible word. However, a good sign is that the streets are now silent and empty. With a nationwide shutdown of the transport system after announcement of general holidays as part of desperate efforts to control coronavirus, Bangladesh has apparently locked down its 160 million people. Unfortunately, it has taken the government far too long to act seriously, closing down flights, schools, businesses and public gatherings. Bangladesh has 39 known cases with four confirmed deaths so far.
With the number of Covid-19 patients rising in Bangladesh, healthcare professionals fear they are compromising their health in absence of proper and enough PPE compared to the developed nations. In reality, hospitals in Bangladesh have only 1,169 ICU beds in total against a population of 160 million. We are worried for the vulnerable group of our society who have no access to clean water, food, shelter. The part of the public that is at greater risk, and for those who might be affected by wealthy people hoarding supplies that the underprivileged folks might not be able to access as the lockdown continues to worsen.
Are journalists facing restrictions by the government in terms of coverage?
So far, our government is very open regarding the coverage. I have received cooperation from all sources in particular. Everyone is fearful in the given circumstances. Our security forces are ensuring cooperation and a very limited number of female journalists or photographers are out on the ground. I feel that is also another reason why I am being appreciated and receiving support. It’s different now because when we cover protests or other events, law enforcement agencies have a rather hostile relationship with the media; but now, we are all united and performing our duty, knowing every well that any of us can face the worst at any given time, we are on the front line of danger collectively.
What kind of on-the-ground challenges are you facing?
I have to practice and remind myself all the time to maintain physical distance while working on-the-ground. As a journalist or photographer, I tend to work very closely with people. Now I have to do more phone interviews, take photographs from a distance. Also, stay calm and focus on what’s important to cover without rushing onto everywhere. Wearing the protective gear on duty and breathing in it is hard, while going through the process of disinfecting myself every other minute is also scary.
What is the situation like for you as a journalist in terms of logistics, particularly with respect to the lockdown imposed in Bangladesh?
Many of my freelance journalists and photographer friends are out of work now. This time is tough because storytellers from the global south are always struggling financially. Many of my works and assignments have been canceled and I might be without income for the foreseeable future, the financial stress for me and many of my colleagues worldwide is real.
“Many of my freelance journalists and photographer friends are out of work now. This time is tough because storytellers from the global south are always struggling financially. ”
What steps are you taking to keep yourself safe and healthy while reporting on the ground. Do you have safety gear for that?
Without safety gear, I cannot imagine taking one step outside to report. After returning from work, the process of disinfecting demands a lot of time and stress but the fight is not to save myself alone. It is to ensure the safety of people around me and everyone that I encounter on a daily basis. One of the doctors told me that now we have to save ourselves for the sake of saving others, for the sake of saving our loved ones, this is what we have to remind ourselves every time we work on the ground.
Coronavirus coverage has taken a toll on several journalists across the world. What are you doing to focus on your mental health in the midst of reporting?
The most difficult part is waking up everyday with a fear of separation and loss. Time pauses for us but we are restlessly fighting without knowing what will happen next. It’s frantic that we cannot make any plans anymore, we do not have any control over our lives. Without any warning, our lives have now shifted from order to chaos. But the astonishing part of covering this historic time is the act of solidarity, we are more united mentally and spiritually than we have ever been before, though we are bound to put ourselves far apart from each other physically. But that is where our uniqueness lays.
We haven’t given up hope. While closely working with health professionals and security personnel, I have learned something extraordinary that we have to continue our duty with hope, sanity, and aspiration. If we let it ruin our hope, there will be no way we can come alive out of it.
This interview was originally written for Women In Journalism Magazine by The Coalition For Women In Journalism