Deep-seated structural inequalities and patriarchal values are to blame for India’s worrisome Covid vaccine gender gap, activists and academics warned.
As of June 25, of the 309 million doses of Covid vaccine administered since January 2021, 143 million were administered to women compared to nearly 167 million to men, according to CoWin, The National Statistics Site of India: A proportion of 856 doses administered women for every 1000 given to men. The difference is not explained by India’s gender imbalance 924 women per 1,000 men.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India with the highest number of people living in rural areas, has administered 29 million vaccinations. Of this number, which includes the first and second doses, 42% were administered to women. West Bengal, the fourth most populous state, is also lagging behind, with women receiving 44% of the doses. Dadra and Nagar Haveli, a predominantly rural union territory in western India, have one of the most stark disparities – only 30% of vaccinations were for women. Daman and Diu, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir are among the other regions that perform poorly. A handful of states, including Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, have given more doses to women than men.
Data on transgender people, non-binary people or people of other marginalized genders has not been accurately tracked, and all groups are included in a singular category of “other”.
“Women are not seen as an important part of the family, community or social structure. [The vaccine gender gap] it reflects the gender inequality that is prevalent in India, and even internationally, ”said Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Plan International’s Asia Pacific and Gender Transformation Policies and Practices.
Sofia Imad, a junior researcher at the Mumbai-based thinktank IDFC Institute, has investigated attitudes towards vaccination among the urban poor in Mumbai and Pune. He said there were several reasons why women were unable or reluctant to receive the vaccine.
“There are doubts because of the rumors about the side effects and how the vaccine affects fertility and menstruation,” Imad said. “But there are other factors such as women not being able to access the technology necessary to register, not having information about where the centers are or not being able to go to the centers alone.
“Women often need their husbands’ permission to get vaccinated as well. Even if they succeed, if their husbands are not available to accompany them … they get lost. “
Ram Kumari, 26, from Gurugram, Haryana, said: “I didn’t even know we had to register by phone. I don’t have a smartphone. My husband has one, but I don’t know how to use it. “
She added: “I want to get the vaccine and I thought about going to the government hospital, but it is too far to walk. I have no way of getting there, especially alone. “
The fifth National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2019-2020, showed a clear gender digital divide. Of those surveyed, 58% of women had never used the Internet, compared to 38% of men.
Julie Thekkudan, a women’s rights and gender justice expert with more than 18 years of experience, said: “Most men do not consider it important to register their wives on the CoWin app. Their health is not considered a priority and if they do not work outside the home, they are not considered at risk ”.
He added: “Mobility also becomes a problem. If public transportation is not readily available, and [the vaccination centre] It is not passable, what can working class women do? “
Anecdotally, women report that men are given preference for the vaccine in many mixed households. Neerja Sharma, 46, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, said: “My husband thought it was right for him to get vaccinated first. Due to the possible side effects of Covishield, he needed her to take care of him while he was ill. And if I get sick with him, who will cook and take care of the house and our son?
Another concern for many women is that information about side effects and how to treat them is not available in an accessible language or format. There are also unfounded fears that the vaccine could cause infertility or interrupt menstrual cycles, especially in rural communities.
Imad said: “Much of the information women get is through WhatsApp, which may not be reliable. Women have two types of concerns: one is that they cannot get the vaccine during menstruation, and the other is that the vaccination will affect their future cycles.
“Accredited social health activists have not received training on Covid-19 vaccines and have not been provided any communication materials. They need access to materials from community health workers in order to alleviate concerns at the grassroots level. “
As companies prepare to return to face-to-face work, getting vaccinated has become a priority for workers. TO Covid-19 vaccination trends survey, conducted in India in April this year, found that more than 50% of companies plan to facilitate vaccination of their employees and their dependents.
However, a study published in March by the University of Krea in Andhra Pradesh found that 93% of rural women and 77% of urban women have informal jobs, where most employers do not see it as their responsibility to make sure workers are vaccinated.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that anyone could enter a vaccination center without first registering on the app, making it more accessible to women.
But Thekkudan said more needed to be done to close the gender gap in vaccination. “We need to encourage walk-ins and facilitate door-to-door vaccinations. We also need to create public health awareness materials, translated into regional languages and represented graphically. It is essential to put this vaccination campaign in ‘mission mode’ ”.
Plan International’s Dengle said it wasn’t just a question of access. “[We have to] Address the social norms and root causes that create this gap. And it has to start young: are we teaching our children stereotypes such as that women belong in the kitchen? An inclusive curriculum is just one of the ways we can begin to address the gender inequality that leads to such gaps in the larger scheme of things. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism