Following a recent outbreak of swine flu in the West Bank, which later spread to Gaza as well, 'Issam Shawer, a columnist in the Hamas daily Falastin, wrote that women are the worst transmitters of diseases because they tend to gather in groups and to move from place to place. He advised them to wear a niqab, saying it protects them from infection, and called to limit their movement in the next few months in order to curb the spread of germs.
The following are excerpts from his article:
"The swine flu virus, H1N1, is spreading through the West Bank towns, especially the northern ones. Four people have died so far and dozens are sick, and the numbers are increasing, [though] we hope they will stop.
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"I believe that women are the most numerous and fastest transmitters of viral diseases and epidemics such as swine flu, and I am not making baseless accusations when I describe them as such. This is especially [true] in Arab societies like ours, which follow customs that are positive and pleasant, but are also deadly in [certain] unusual circumstances. [For example, when there is need] to make a condolence call, women emerge from every corner and flock from every direction, even from afar, and then congregate in one place. They comfort [the family] and also trade stories – this is very important to them – and spread news and rumors, but also viruses that waft through the stuffy air. Then they disperse, and many go on to perform some other duty at some other home or function hall. This is why I think women are the fastest transmitters of epidemics.
"Some of them take the necessary precautions and wear face masks when they are alone, yet, when they meet, they remove the masks in order to chat and to do what they are best at: exchanging news. But viruses also find their way to new victims in this manner. There is endless evidence that what we have said [here] about women [is true]. Therefore, they must understand that the duty of protecting the life and health of society is greater than other duties that can be performed in less harmful ways. Also, we cannot avoid mentioning the advantage of the niqab, worn by devout Muslim women, in protecting them from contagious diseases.
"Men, too, have a role in spreading infection, but since they keep busy, and are slower to perform their [social] duties and follow the traditional customs, they have a smaller role in this compared to the 'other side.' Nevertheless, they can [help] stop the spread of disease by avoiding some inappropriate customs like kissing [people] at weddings and funerals and serving coffee in non-disposable glasses. They can also take a greater part in fighting disease by imposing stricter constraints on the movement and gatherings of the womenfolk, as broadly as possible... at least in the next three months."
 Felesteen.ps, December 24, 2012.