COVID-19 | The Lancet article highlights gender inequality in health

According to a article published in The Lancet, during the coronavirus pandemic, women have been at the receiving end of domestic violence and ante-natal care has suffered a setback due to the pressure on health care delivery.   | Photo Credit: Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

A recently published article in The Lancet highlights how COVID-19 has exacerbated gender inequalities and warns against a damaging roll back in women's rights unless governments focus on sex-disaggregated data across key health indicators.

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The article that appeared under the comment section assumes importance because it is jointly authored by global heads of six UN agencies along with 11 other feminist scholars and health experts from across the world, who have reiterated their commitment to obtain gender-disaggregated data from all member States and their priority health programmes.

The byline names in the article "COVID-19: The turning point in gender equality", are also the key members of a high-profile advisory committee to the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, Kuala Lumpur.

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The coming together of WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNWomen chiefs to write a paper is "unusual", said Prof.Gita Sen, who is one of the two co-chairs of the advisory group. "It is indicative of an urgent need for recovery efforts as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted much beyond just the disease, " she told The Hindu over a phone call.

Prof. Sen, who is also the Director, Ramalingaswami Centre on Equity & Social Determinants of Health, at the Public Health Foundation of India, said the committee members took cognizance of the fact that the pandemic was not only profoundly disturbing the social and economic structure but also compounding the gender disparities, that several women's organisations and activists had tried to bridge through their hard work over the years.

When the pandemic hit, multiple field groups working with communities began assessing the effect of COVID-19 on women and girls and have been crying hoarse ever since. Incomplete and inconsistent gender data precipitated the need for concrete recovery plans by the 17-member advisory group.

The article talks about the global vaccine inequity that currently defines the global pandemic response. "It is a moral and public health failure that 75 per cent of the 3.47 billion COVID-19 doses were administered in only the top 10 rich countries," it says. "In rest of the world, the vaccination drive is found wanting while the poor nations are lagging miserably. Any shortage affects the vulnerable at the lower end of power hierarchy, the most," remarked Prof.Sen.

Citing India's example, she said the government data reveals women have been left behind men by over three crore doses. Till June, 14.99 crore doses were administered to women while 17.8 crore doses were given to men. The gender gap in the country's vaccination drive (870 women/1000 men) is higher than the population sex ratio of 940 women/1,000 men (as per 2011 Census data).

‘Women continue to self-sacrifice’

The pandemic, according to the article, has exposed structural inequalities in every sphere, from health and economy to security and social protection. During these times of limited resources, women continue to be self-sacrificing and suffer disproportionately. There is a digital divide, income divide, increased work load that are further amplified in conflicts, domestic abuse and violence. Girl children have been pulled out of education due to lack of income in poor families, and forced into child marriage; Women have been at the receiving end of domestic violence and ante-natal care has suffered a setback due to the pressure on health care delivery.

The committee, slated to meet in October again, will advise on mitigating the long-term impacts of the pandemic on women’s livelihoods and well-being. These, according to The Lancet article, include ensuring adequate core financial resources, reinforcing institutional capacity , promoting gender expertise and improving political partnerships.

"Keeping data undercover is the easiest way of pre-empting any concrete action later. Gender data has to be a priority commitment, said Prof.Sen. But only 48 per cent and 36 per cent of 199 countries reported sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to the article.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 5:34:56 AM |

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