COVID-19 vaccines are available across the country now, despite initial fears of a potential shortage. But the continuing vaccine hesitancy, especially among rural women, is now worrying. Vaccine hesitancy has created an apparent gender disparity in vaccinations. Available data till August this year points to a 12% gender gap with more men being vaccinated than women.
Breakthrough India – a women’s rights organization seeking to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable, conducted a survey in June this year on the Gendered Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic and Vaccine Hesitancy among Rural and Urban Populations. The survey brought out startling findings, indicating that about 43% women from rural areas and 16% women from urban areas didn’t want to be vaccinated. The reasons cited included: women should not be vaccinated while menstruating, vaccines can affect fertility, vaccines can be life-threatening and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not get vaccinated.
Studies further reveal that there are enormous amounts of myths and misinformation floating around, particularly among rural populations about COVID-19 vaccines and its potential risk to health. Sohini Bhattacharya, President and CEO, Breakthrough India says, “At Breakthrough, we’re working towards addressing this with a focus on populations in rural and peri-urban districts in Haryana, UP and Jharkhand. Our primary focus is to ensure that women have access to correct information about vaccines. We work very closely with frontline workers to reach out to and engage with rural women and communities that they come from to educate them.” Breakthrough launched an advocacy initiative called ‘Chain of Action’ to facilitate and advance the efforts. Chain of Action is a chain of change makers, who lend their voice in support of the issue and donate towards the cause.
The Chain of Action initiative is helmed by patrons like Priya Paul, Tarini Jindal Handa, Shweta Bhosale and Anjum Jung. The campaign has already received support from several eminent personalities who are lending their voice to amplify Breakthrough’s mission that no women or girl should be left behind. Ambassadors such as Alpana Kirloskar, Manisha Jaitha, Shirin Paul, Ryena Advani, Vikram Goyal, Swapnali Bhosale, Tanvi Shete and Sumati Raheja have extended their support to the Chain of Action campaign.
“The frontline workers we closely collaborate with are actively educating women through rigorous myth-busting, reassuring them that the vaccine has been proven safe for pregnant and menstruating women. Various government-led initiatives have also been put in place, allowing a higher reach in a shorter span of time, so that we win the race against COVID-19 and do not regress in our collective journey towards gender equality in all aspects,” adds Ms. Bhattacharya.
The frontline workers are primarily engaged in counseling women to be more accepting of the COVID-19 vaccines and more aware of hygiene & sanitation. Breakthrough’s vaccine hesitancy campaign in rural areas focuses on working with local youth leaders to build their skills and encouraging them to reach out to their communities, particularly women, to ensure they get vaccinated. Local media campaigns for disseminating the correct information and busting the myths helped advance the efforts in the right direction.
Grassroots level outreach and engagement with the support of Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers helped in encouraging women to get vaccinated. Additionally, Breakthrough initiated dialogues around the issue of keeping girls in school and stopping early marriage particularly because of Covid-19. These efforts have led to a visible decrease in school drop-outs in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Fear and turbulence are the greatest dampeners to progress, and at Breakthrough we understand how these factors lead to vulnerable sections being impacted to a disproportionate degree. With a strong emphasis on providing protective gear to frontline workers, we are also striving to bring girl children back to school and championing the cause of vaccinations. Through community dialogues and awareness campaigns, we want to drive home the message via scientifically established data,” observes Ms. Bhattacharya.
We invite you to collaborate with our ‘Chain of Action’ campaign by lending your voice to raise awareness or contributing to the cause. With this unique month-long fundraiser, we aim to fight the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls.
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