Updated: January 20, 2022 9:24:46 am
India has clocked over 158 crore vaccines – first, second and precaution doses taken together — until January 18, at a ratio of 954 women for every 1,000 men. Overall, this is higher than the sex ratio (933) as per the last Census but it’s the top metros that show a gender gap in vaccination.
Until January 18, Mumbai saw 1.10 crore men getting vaccinated against 76.98 lakh women, a ratio of 694 women for every 1,000 men. This is sharply lower than the city’s Census sex ratio of 832.
Similar is the disparity in Delhi: 1.64 crore men got vaccinated compared to 1.22 crore among women over the last one year — a ratio of 742 women every 1,000 men. As per the last Census, the sex ratio in Delhi is 868.
Similar is the pattern in Bengaluru and Chennai. (see chart).
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Of the 36 states and Union Territories (UT), only nine —Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Odisha, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have reported more vaccination among women.
Uttar Pradesh, which has administered 23.65 crore vaccines—the highest in India — saw 12.18 crore doses administered to men as compared to 11.41 crore to women. This works out to a ratio of 936 female to 1,000 men – marginally better than the sex ratio of 912 as per the state’s Census 2011.
Experts cite several reasons behind the vaccination gender-gap in cities where, ironically, there is better accessibility to vaccination centres.
“We have noticed the trend,” said a senior Health Ministry official in Delhi. “Perhaps, it is because several workplaces have mandated that workers be vaccinated that the vaccination rates are higher among men. Special vaccination camps have also been held at construction sites, which have more men than women.”
The official said that special initiatives are on to address this. “Over the past few weeks, we have held special camps for pregnant women and lactating mothers to make sure they are not being left out,” he said.
Some experts say families prioritise men as their movement outside for personal and professional reasons are more than female.
In Mumbai, officials ascribe the gap to labour migration. “Most of the migrants, who come to Mumbai for work, leave their families at home. So the share in the population of male beneficiaries is more than female,” said Suresh Kakani, Additional Commissioner, BMC.
In some rural districts, like Gondia in Maharashtra, more women (9.11 lakh) have got doses than men (8.50 lakh). Asked about this, Subhas Salunke, member of the state’s Covid-19 task force, attributed it to involvement of ASHA and anganwadi workers.
“These healthcare workers have been able to encourage women to get vaccinated which is lacking in urban setups. During their door-to-door vaccination, they pull out women and counsel them for vaccination,” he said.
In cities, some experts say, the gender gap betrays deeper inequalities.
Getting access to the registration portal, tracking and getting vaccination require women to “navigate” a system that is more “masculinised,” said Bindhulakshmi P, chairperson at the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies in the School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai.
Moreover, she said, in many cases women home-makers delay the decision to opt for vaccination in order to facilitate the vaccination for other members of the family as they need to take care of domestic chores.
An illustrative case is that of Surekha Pandey, 24, a resident of Vardhini village in Palghar taluka. She got her first dose as late as January 6 as her in-laws didn’t allow her to get the jab until the district made vaccination certificates compulsory.
But her husband was one of the first in their village to get the shot.
“Many people in the village got fever and body ache after getting a jab including my husband. So my in-laws refrained from getting the vaccine as it would have affected the domestic work,” said Surekha.
Anant Bhan, researcher in global health and health policy, flags digital literacy. As per NFHS-5, in India, 69.4% of women in urban areas and 46.6% in rural areas have a mobile that they use. But compared to 57.1% men, only 33.3% women have ever used the internet.
“Apart from access to mobile phones, another concern that keeps women away from vaccination is misinformation on social media that vaccines causes infertility, interruption of menstrual cycles,” he said.
Only 3.75 lakh people from other gender communities that include transgender persons and gender non-binary persons have been vaccinated. “Many of these individuals get stigmatised while getting vaccinated. Also, due to lack of documents as many of them change their official identity, they are lagging behind in vaccination,” said Bhan.
“Historically, even in children immunization programmes like polio, hepatitis or TB, girls have always lagged behind boys under the national health programme,” said Salunke.
(with ENS, New Delhi)
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