India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive has a gender bias. According to statistics from COWIN, the government’s COVID portal, for every 1000 doses administered to men, only 856 were administered to women. This gap is a significant one and raised questions on whether the most critical campaign in the recent past has been an equitable one.
Digital technology has become an increasingly important tool for education, financial inclusion, and a lifeline for critical health services. The entire vaccination process in India has been driven by digital technology.
Digital portals such as COWIN and Aarogya Setu are essential to check for the availability of vaccines, schedule a vaccination appointment, and get the necessary acknowledgements from the authorities. Although, the technological intervention has made the process very convenient for many, it has been subject to a gender bias.
According to the Yale Economic Growth Center, 75% of Indian men and only 45% of Indian women own a mobile phone. 24% of Indian men own a smartphone, compared to less than 10% of women. Furthermore, only 15% of Indian women can be considered digitally literate as compared to 32% of Indian men
This digital gender gap has impeded women’s access to the full spectrum of digital opportunities, including access to the critical COVID-19 vaccine. This gap can be attributed to the inequitable access to education, digital assets, and opportunities to acquire digital literacy in the country.
The deep-rooted patriarchal values that exist in the “offline” world have kept women from getting proper representation in the “online” world. The digital divide has also had an indirect impact on the traditional offline methods of availing health services for women.
Traditionally, ASHA and Anganwadi workers have been the interface for availing a wide range of basic health services for women across rural India. However, low digital literacy and limited access to digital assets have prevented these workers from not only availing these services for themselves, but also to act as a facilitator for women around them.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for equitable access for women to technology, digital assets and resources.
The digital gender divide has exacerbated the consequences of the pandemic for women and has undone the progress that had been achieved in the past few decades towards providing equitable access for women to basic health services.
It is critical that we address the social norms that keep women offline, and focus on creating new norms that empower them, amplify their voices and build solidarity among women’s movements.