Covid-19 Vaccination: Why Women Are Left Behind – Hesitancy, Dependency, Misinformation

Covid-19 Vaccination: Why Women Are Left Behind – Hesitancy, Dependency, Misinformation Official data from CoWIN highlights a distinct gender gap in the number of those vaccinated.

Anita Yadav, a 38-year-old homemaker, has been wanting to get vaccinated against Covid-19 for months. She is specially abled and walks with an abnormal gait. Anita, who hails from Bihar’s Arrah district, lives with her husband, a vegetable vendor and the only earning member, in Noida.

Owing to her inability to venture out alone, and her physical and financial dependency on her husband, Yadav has not been able to take the vaccine.

“There is a notion that if I stay indoors, I am less likely to be exposed to the virus. I will get the jab once my husband finds a slot in the nearest government clinic,” says Anita.

Anita is not alone in missing out on the jab. There are scores of women who want to get vaccinated but haven’t been able to – for reasons ranging from vaccine hesitancy, dependency, pregnancy, the digital divide or disability.

India started its Covid-19 vaccination drive on January 16, 2021. Frontline workers were the first to be inoculated, followed by 50+ and under-50 citizens with comorbidities. Vaccination for those above 45 years of age started from April 1 and for those above 18 years from May 1.

Official data highlights a distinct gender gap in the number of those vaccinated. As of June 10, the CoWIN portal shows that for every 1000 men, 854 women were getting vaccinated at the national level.

Census 2011 states India’s sex ratio to be 940 females to 1000 males. The vaccination gender divide, however, seems to be deeper than the sex-ratio divide.

As India enters the sixth month of its vaccination drive, it is clear that fewer women are taking the vaccine shots as compared to men. In an attempt to understand the reasons behind this divide, India Ahead spoke to some women from varied backgrounds who have not been inoculated.

The Digital Divide

Registering and booking slots through the CoWIN portal or the Aarogya Setu App is the first step towards getting vaccinated. For people living in rural areas or places with poor or no access to the internet, a visit to the closest government health facility to sign up on location and getting the jab on the spot is the only solution. However, not every woman can muster necessary resources on her own to get through to finding available slots.

Hema Mehta, a 31-year-old cook from Uttarakhand’s Bageshwar district, does not have a smartphone. Hema’s husband, Rajesh, a mason, got his first jab when his company got its employees vaccinated.

“Access to gadgets and money is a big problem. My husband had asked the nearest government hospital about the vaccination but the dose was unavailable,” says Hema.

Hema, who understands that one needs to register online through an app for the vaccination, is unaware of the specifics of the process and the CoWIN portal.

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Internet usage among women in rural areas of India is abysmally low – only 42.6 % of women in rural India have ever used the internet in their lives.

Less than four out of 10 women in urban India, and three out of 10 in rural India, have ever used the internet, according to the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The report highlights a significant gender divide and rural-urban disparity in internet usage across the country.

“It’s a deadly disease. Of Course, I want to get vaccinated. Why wouldn’t I? I have seen that Prime Minister Modi has got it as well. If he has got the shot then it’s important,” says Hema.

I have seen that Prime Minister Modi has got it as well. If he has got the shot then it’s important

Hema has two children who are both under 18. She wants them to get the jab as well and is eagerly waiting for the centre’s announcement on vaccination for an age group that is under 18.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Lack of authentic information has sparked vaccine hesitancy, particularly for women in rural areas. Sarojini Nadimpally, a Public Health researcher and social scientist, who is also the co-founder of Sama, a Delhi-based organisation that bridges public health and the women’s movements, highlighted the misinformation that is doing the rounds about women getting the vaccine.

“There is misinformation about vaccination during menstruation. Women feel that they should not get the jab during their period as their immunity is at its lowest or the vaccine can cause infertility,” says Nadimpally.

Women feel that they should not get the jab during their period as their immunity is at its lowest

Nadimpally points out that the absence of credible and valid information about the efficacy of vaccines in several areas of the country has worsened things.

“Understanding the regional and cultural values of the community, health-seeking behaviours, their experiences, addressing their mobility challenges to access vaccination sites as well as for trusted health information is very crucial in addressing the problem,” Nadimpally adds.

No Vaccination For Pregnant Women

Urmila Devi, a 32-year-old domestic help from UP’s Bahraich, delivered a baby girl in the first week of May 2021. For Devi, who has just delivered a baby, the fear of getting side effects from the vaccine shot is on the rise.

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“Everyone in my family is vaccinated but they asked me to wait for a few more months. I feel that they are right. What if something happens to my girl? I have to breastfeed her,” says Urmila.

I will wait for a few months. What if something happens to my girl? I have to breastfeed her

Currently, pregnant women are not included in the process of vaccination. According to WHO recommendations, breastfeeding women can be vaccinated against COVID-19 and can continue breastfeeding after vaccination.

Experts have consistently pointed out how very few vaccines get evaluated for pregnant and lactating women.

Dependency

Lack of mobility and the authority to make decisions in the family are other factors why women are lagging in getting vaccinated.

Around 91% of women in India in paid jobs are employed in the informal sector. While some domestic helps that India Ahead spoke to said, they were dependent on the more tech-aware male members in their family for tasks that require documentation, others depend on their employers and Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) to get the jab.

Chandni Bedi is a 27-year-old domestic help from Bihar’s Madhubani and works in Noida. When cases started to peak during the second wave, Bedi left for her hometown. She says that her RWA in Noida had listed her name among those who needed to get the vaccine shot but she was unable to get the jab because of her absence.

“There is no such list in my hometown here in Madhubani. My Society in Noida has made it free for us. So why not avail for a free vaccine? When I return to Noida, I will get vaccinated,” says Chandni.

My Society in Noida has made it free for us. So why not avail for a free vaccine?

Meanwhile, Anita, the specially abled woman from Noida, has no choice but to wait.

“There is nothing in my control. My husband has been keeping busy. I will get vaccinated the day he is relatively free and is able to find a slot”, she says.

My husband has been keeping busy. I will get vaccinated the day he is relatively free and is able to find a slot

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