“Women often also need permission from their husbands"
Despite India’s continuous vaccine rollout, Indian women are currently missing out on receiving a Covid-19 vaccination.
According to campaigners and academics, India is facing a vaccine gender gap.
They believe this is due to the country’s age-old patriarchal values and gender inequalities.
As of Friday, June 25, 2021, India had administered 309 million Covid-19 vaccine doses since January 2021.
According to the country’s national statistics website CoWin, women received 143 million of these vaccines, compared to 167 million men.
This is a ratio of 856 doses for women for every 1,000 for men.
According to CoWin, the difference is not accounted for by India’s gender ratio of 924 women to 1,000 men.
Speaking of the apparent vaccine gender gap in India, Asia Pacific’s executive director Bhagyashri Dengle said:
“Women are not seen as an important part of the family, community or society structure.
“[The vaccine gender gap] is reflective of the gender inequality prevalent in India, and even internationally.”
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has administered 29 million Covid-19 vaccines. Of these, only 42% were given to women.
West Bengal has administered 44% of its vaccines to women, and just 30% of vaccines in Dadra and Nagar Haveli went to women.
Only a small number of states, such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, have given more vaccine doses to women than men.
Additionally, data on transgender and non-binary people, as well as people of other marginalised genders, has not been tracked accurately.
Therefore, these minority groups either fall under a single ‘other’ category or fall through the cracks completely.
However, according to Sofia Imad of Mumbai thinktank IDFC Institute, there are a number of other reasons why Indian women are not receiving a vaccine.
“There is hesitancy because of rumours about side-effects, and how the vaccine affects fertility and menstruation.
“But there are other factors such as women not being able to access the technology needed to register for it, not having information on where the centres are or not being able to go to the centres alone.”
Imad added: “Women often also need permission from their husbands to get vaccinated.
“Even if they get that, if their husbands are unavailable to accompany them… they miss out.”
According to the fifth National Health Survey conducted between 2019 and 2020, 58% of Indian women had never used the internet, compared with 38% of Indian men.
Women’s rights and gender justice expert Julie Thekkudan says that Indian women’s health is not a priority in the same way men’s health is.
“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 then they are not considered a risk.
“Mobility also becomes an issue. If public transport is not easily available, and [the vaccination centre] is not walkable, what can working-class women do?”
Indian women have many concerns surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine, such as a lack of information about side effects and fears around infertility.
Speaking of this, Sofia Imad said:
“A lot of the information that women get is through WhatsApp, which may not be reliable.
“Women have two kinds of concerns – one is that you cannot get the vaccine while menstruating, and the other that vaccination will affect your future cycles.
“Accredited social health activists haven’t been trained on the Covid-19 vaccines and haven’t been given any communications materials.
“They need access to community health worker materials so that they can alleviate concerns at the grassroots level.”
Currently, India is working to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
In June 2021, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that anyone can walk into a vaccination centre without preregistering.
This makes vaccines more accessible for Indian women.
However, Julie Thekkudan believes more can be done. She said:
“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 depicted pictorially.
“It is essential to put this vaccination drive into ‘mission mode’.”
Bhagyashri Dengle believes that, to close the vaccine gender gap, we have to look deeper than access issues. Dengle said:
“[We have to] address the social norms and root causes that create this gap.
“And it needs to start young: are we teaching our children stereotypes such as women belong in the kitchen?
“An inclusive curriculum is just one of the ways in which we can start addressing gender inequality which leads to such gaps in the larger scheme of things.”
India’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is increasing, and overtaking the US in the total number of vaccines administered.
India reported 979 deaths on Sunday, June 27, 2021, the first death count below 1,000 since April 12, 2021.