Gender gap in COVID vaccination growing in rural India

On January 16, India started the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccination programme. At first, the programme took up phase but later became slow due to lack of vaccine stock. As of May 27, the Indian vaccination program administered 2,057,20,660 doses, this includes both first and second doses. In total 83,071,923 doses were administered to males, 73,073,573 doses to females, and 23,499 doses to others.

Growing vaccine shortage across states, lack of awareness about vaccines, and technology constraints are the reasons behind the widening gap between male and female jabs. The sex ratio in India is 108.18 males per 100 females with the male population making 51.96 percent and the female population at 48.04 percent.

Gender Inequality Index (GII)

Introduced in 2010, GII measures gender-based factors that create disadvantages in reproductive health, labour market and empowerment. Unequal distribution of human development results in high inequality. India stands at 122 globally according to the UNDP report 2019. 

This gender inequality in the country is now impacting vaccination coverage. In rural areas, the vaccination gap is slowly widening due to vaccine hesitancy developed by illiteracy and digital divide. Socio-cultural factors rooted deeply in the rural areas are also making women less accepting towards vaccines.

Rural divide

Patriarchal ecosystems in the rural areas are amplifying the vaccination gap and growing myths and rumors are fuming it. Lack of education on vaccine’s effect on menstruation, fertility, pregnancy and lactating women is enhancing the fears related to vaccination and is adding to the gap in rural areas.

Differences in gender should be avoided in the vaccination drive and priority should be given to women who are facing an increase in work due to lockdown at home and job losses in unorganised sectors. Women’s care burden increased by 30 percent as child care, cooking, cleaning and caring for the sick are managed by them.

“The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic”, read a UN policy brief.

“Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protection. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is, therefore, less than that of men,” said a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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