RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Like pretty much everywhere outside the U.S., soccer is the sport in the Gaza Strip. And now, when players get injured, there's a new site on the soccer field - a female paramedic. Yes, for the first time, a woman is among those treating injured male players. And as Lauren Frayer reports from Gaza City, not everyone is happy about it.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: After some uncertainty at the gate to Gaza's main soccer stadium, guards finally let an ambulance roll in. It's carrying one of the most controversial figures ever to set foot on this field. She's the first female emergency medical technician to staff a professional soccer game in Gaza.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).
FRAYER: Inside, thousands of soccer fans rally. A radio announcer narrates the start of the game. And 28-year-old Hanan Abu Qassem, dressed in a bright-pink headscarf and black floor-length robe, begins her work, tending to a man injured in a scuffle at the stadium gate.
KAMAL BAHOUM: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: Kamal Bahoum, an older man with a beard, says he's surprised to find a woman doing this job, but extends his bleeding hand for a bandage nonetheless. In the Palestinian territories, female doctors, nurses an EMTs work pretty much everywhere their male counterparts do, except for soccer games, often rowdy, all-male events, which, until now, have used all-male medical teams, just like in much of the world.
But after another Arab country, Jordan, began employing female EMTs at its soccer games this year, Gaza followed suit. At her first game last month, Abu Qassem and a colleague were booed and later lambasted on social media, she explains in an interview at her office behind the stadium.
HANAN ABU QASSEM: Yeah, they have a problem that female can touch the male do first aid. But it's something ordinary for me (laughter).
FRAYER: She's an experienced EMT, having treated victims of Israeli bombs during the 2014 Gaza war. But male soccer fans offended by Abu Qassem's presence took their complaints to Gaza's soccer federation, which told her she might be locked out of future games.
ABU QASSEM: If I cannot enter the field now, I maybe cry, you know, because I have ambitions, you know? I'm anxious to be a very famous EMT.
FRAYER: Back on the field, the crowd stops chanting. Two players have just collided. One lies on the ground, clutching his leg. Abu Qassem sends her male assistants out with a stretcher.
ABU QASSEM: They will bring me the injury, and I will try and make treatment for it inside the car. And then we will go to the hospital now, you know?
FRAYER: It looks bad. He's not standing up.
ABU QASSEM: Fracture.
(Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: The ambulance speeds away. Watching all of this is Sabah Ahmed, the only other woman, as far as I can tell, in this stadium of thousands. Ahmed is a sports journalist, and she says she sympathizes with Abu Qassem.
SABAH AHMED: As a female journalist, we face the same problems that they face. But day by day, the people start to deal with us.
FRAYER: She says three more women have joined the ranks of Gaza's sports press corps in the past year. That night, Palestinian TV replays footage of the injured soccer player being carried off the field. The report doesn't mention who treated him. But if you look closely, you can spot a hot-pink hijab in the background. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Gaza.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.