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Should I feel guilty for feeling unsafe?

In our latest member voice article, NAWP Network Committee Member and Community/GP Pharmacist, Ayah Abbass, shares her concerns about her safety as a female pharmacist and what employers can do to ensure women in pharmacy feel safe at work.

Tue 7th September 2021 The PDA

It was a normal working day, I got into the car, put the radio on and started driving – mentally preparing for my day as a Responsible Pharmacist. Halfway through driving, I heard the news on the murder of Sarah Everard and burst into tears. Sarah – how many females can relate to your case? How many of us have been in a similar situation but had a lucky escape? I could not sleep for days and kept thinking how sickening this situation is.

Safety concerns as a female pharmacist

The whole week I was reflecting on my life as a woman and the number of times I have felt unsafe: the number of times I thought someone was following me, or getting flirty remarks that I felt I was forced to brush away at work because I was scared of the consequences, whilst feeling uncomfortable inside and fearing how the situation could have got out of control.

I kept reading articles about Sarah Everard over and over again and kept thinking that could have been me or my sister or my mother or my colleagues. What is worse about this situation is the fact that anyone identifying themselves as female has felt unsafe at work.

“I have worked late hours and remember people saying “You’re a girl. Why are you working late? It’s dangerous for you.” But is avoiding working late the solution?”

I am a pharmacist and I have to work late evenings to help patients who find themselves in emergencies. The solution isn’t to stop working those dangerous hours as a female pharmacist. But how can employers make us feel safe at work?

I have worked in several places where I had to be left alone as other members of staff had to go on a break. I had to pretend to be strong in front of patients and pretend someone else was in the back of the pharmacy. But I know, deep down that if something happened and I pressed the panic alarm, it might be too late. I have heard of horror stories in pharmacies where a panic alarm has been used but the response came after an hour – is that safe?

It’s time to speak up on how many females have felt unsafe walking to our cars or scared of getting physically abused. Don’t get me wrong – I know other pharmacists have felt unsafe too, but for females that risk drastically increases.

“It’s time employers take safety measures and make females feel safe at work: it’s our basic right. We shouldn’t feel guilty to move our cars closer to the pharmacy – we should be encouraged or provided with a car park close by. We should be provided with alarms when we walk to our cars.”

We all have seen the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) regarding risk assessment and safety, but what about our safety? It’s time to take safety measures seriously and make females feel safe at work. Improved safety measures won’t just help female pharmacists, but will help all pharmacists in general.

I love my role as a pharmacist, and I hate the fact that being a female is increasing my safety risk even further. I know this issue is affecting every single female pharmacist out there. Sarah Everard’s case energised a national movement to prevent violence against women.

Let us start with the workplace. It’s time to make women feel safe everywhere. Instead of blaming the victim, we should focus on the cause. I know if something happens to me after work, people will point fingers – they will blame me for working late, rather than my employer for not protecting me. Let’s change the norm and empower ourselves.

Violence in Pharmacy campaign

The PDA is working hard to ensure all pharmacists’ safety is a top priority as part of their long-running campaign to end violence in pharmacies. The campaign involves working towards a zero-tolerance policy for violence towards pharmacy staff, undertaking risk assessments, and government funding for security measures to protect pharmacy staff.

The PDA released a poster on zero tolerance of abuse in pharmacies that I believe every pharmacy should put on display to remind patients to be kind and respectful. I remember printing this poster at the beginning of the pandemic, as violence in pharmacy increased during the Covid-19 crisis. I feel the poster caught a lot of patients’ attention and made pharmacists feel supported at work.

By Ayah Abbass, NAWP Network Committee Member and Community/GP Pharmacist

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