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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Gender gap in Covid jab

In both access to vaccines as well as information regarding its safety, women lag behind. Governments at all levels must address this urgently


June 1, 2021 7:55:44 am
Outside a vaccination centre in New Delhi

Written by Geeta Punhani

India started its ambitious Covid vaccination drive on January 16, which is slowly gaining momentum. As of May 27, India has administered 2,057,20,660 doses overall, including first and second doses of the currently-approved vaccines. This includes 83,071,923 male,73,073,573 female and 23,499 others.

We know that the sex ratio of the total population in India is skewed. There are 108.18 males per 100 females with the percentage of the female population at 48.04 per cent compared to 51.96 per cent for the male population. The gender gap persists at all levels in India and our record with regard to gender indices is extremely poor.

Gender-related Development Index (GDI) measures life expectancy, educational attainment and income and takes note of inequality in achievement between men and women.The closer the ratio to 1, the smaller the gap between men and women. As per Human Development Report, 2019, the GDI value of India is 0.892 with a rank of 129 out of 189.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII) introduced in 2010 reflects the gender-based disadvantage in three dimensions of reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. Countries with unequal distribution of human development also experience high inequality. It is a useful, composite measure to quantify the loss of achievement within a country due to gender inequality. India has an abysmal GII value of 0.0501 and a ranking of 122 as per the UNDP report 2019. The Human Development Index (HDI) value for females in India is 0.549 whereas it is 0.671 for males, indicating a glaring disparity.

This gender inequality is also visible in our vaccination coverage, as is evident from this table.

We know that vaccination is the only effective protection against the deadly virus and this acquires greater urgency as the virus spreads to the rural landscape.

Gender Vaccinations in India by Gender as of May 26, 2021
Male 83,071,923
Female 73,073,573
Others 23,499

As we move to the hinterland, the vaccination gap is likely to widen further. Vaccine hesitancy is going to be more profound due to the literacy and digital divide that already exists. This will have a multiplier effect in widening the gap. Lower mobility and decision-making capacity amongst women may make them less accepting of the vaccine. Socio cultural factors that are deeply entrenched in the rural landscape will make it worse.

Due to digital illiteracy, women in many cases do not know how to register for the vaccination on the CoWIN platform. They are dependent on the more tech savvy males to do the needful. The patriarchal ecosystem that persists in rural areas further amplifies this gap. Vaccine hesitancy is also aggravated amongst women due to myths and rumours related to its impact on menstruation and fertility. Pregnant and lactating women are hesitant to take the shots due to the lack of information and effective communication advocacy. We cannot allow these factors to create an inequality in our vaccine policy. Remember, sustainable development is not possible if women are marginalised, especially in the health sector.

Women have been greatly suffering during the pandemic due to increased gender-based violence, girls dropping out of school and job losses in the unorganised sector. Due to regular lockdowns, household work has also increased manifold. Studies have shown that women shoulder 75 per cent of the world’s total unpaid care work burden, including child care, cooking, cleaning and caring for the sick and the elderly, which has increased by 30 per cent during the pandemic. Women are the providers, caregivers and nurturers of the young and old. Their vaccination needs to be prioritised as they shoulder greater responsibility and are motivators for children, especially girls and the elderly.

The vaccination drive must be viewed from the gender lens and equity initiatives need to be prioritised for this vulnerable section of the population. Gender-related barriers must be adequately addressed in the planning and rollout of vaccines. We need to channel our paramedical staff like ASHA and anganwadi workers, midwives, nurses who are thankfully, mostly women. These health workers need to be given more incentives so that they can motivate women at the grassroots. Larger representation of women at the panchayat level also makes them effective opinion leaders who can mobilise the women to participate in health communication strategies.

Innovative practices conducted in some states during International Women’s Day by organising vaccination melas to make the women feel special are the need of the hour. All-women vaccination centres should be created to attract more women beneficiaries. Mobile vaccination centres need to be encouraged. Every tier of state and local administration needs to think out of the box to attract more women to the vaccination centres.

History has shown that the impact of a crisis is never gender neutral and Covid-19 is no different. We have to put gender equity at the forefront of Covid-19 response.

The writer teaches at Delhi University

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