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People at a train station during the afternoon rush hour in Jakarta. Photo: Reuters

From Indonesia to Pacific, women less likely to have 2 Covid-19 vaccine shots than men

  • Women have borne the brunt of hardship two years after the pandemic, facing less access to vaccines and food, and taking on more domestic work, a new UN report shows
  • Experts say that gender policies must be implemented to ensure that women and girls are included in the recovery taking place across Asia and the Pacific

Fewer women than men in the Asia-Pacific region have received both initial doses of vaccination against Covid-19.

That is only one of the many disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women across the region, according to a new report by UN Women – the United Nations organisation dedicated to gender equality – and the Asian Development Bank, which is focused on promoting economic growth and cooperation in the region.

The study, titled “Two years on: The lingering gendered effects of the Covid-19 in Asia and the Pacific”, sheds light on how women continue to pay a higher price in all seven countries where data was collected.

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The findings highlight that Covid-19 vaccination rates differ between women and men in most countries. Women in Pacific nations have been overall less likely to receive the two doses, citing reasons such as fear of side effects and misinformation about risks associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Many women also said that they had not been called for a second jab yet, while others noted that they didn’t have time or couldn’t leave their homes to go get a vaccine, according to the survey.

In Indonesia, where vaccination rates are high, more women than men cited limited availability as the key reason holding them from receiving a full course.

Other issues highlighted in the report include unemployment, loss of livelihoods, food hardship as well unpaid care and domestic chores.

A Tongan woman carries a refilled gas container in capital Nuku’alofa ahead of a lockdown on February 2, 2022. Photo: AFP

Sarah Knibbs, officer-in-charge for UN Women Asia and the Pacific, noted that previous studies reported the increase in domestic and care workloads, including cleaning and home-schooling children.

“But this data shows that women, who were already carrying most of these burdens two years ago, have taken on the bulk of the increase as well,” she said. “Very little redistribution of tasks seems to have taken place within households, and that has left many women vulnerable from an income and from an agency point of view.”

The total sample size of the survey was 17,845 people – 52 per cent of those were men and 48 per cent were women – in seven countries, namely Indonesia, Kiribati, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga. It showed that the pandemic had pushed more women than men out of the labour market, with many having to quit their jobs to perform unpaid care and domestic work.

A couple walk along a market amid the coronavirus pandemic in Karachi, Pakistan. File photo: Reuters

The shifts are particularly dramatic for women in Pakistan and Indonesia, where the high number of Covid-19 cases increased unpaid work burdens and affected labour market participation substantially. In Pakistan, for instance, 38 per cent of women have now reported paid employment as their main economic activity, compared to 62 per cent prior to Covid-19.

But regardless of what their main occupation might be, domestic work responsibilities still fall largely on women’s shoulders – the gender gap could hardly be greater in some countries.

In Pakistan, 94 per cent of respondents noted women were in charge of cooking in their households, compared to only one per cent that reported men were in charge. Similarly, women do the cleaning in 91 per cent of cases, compared to one per cent of men.

In Indonesia, 85 per cent of respondents said women are in charge of cooking in their households, while eight per cent reported that men are responsible for it. Women also do the cleaning in 76 per cent of cases, compared to 11 per cent of men.

Across all countries, 63 per cent of women spend the most time among all household members supervising and minding children, whereas only eight per cent of men do so. An estimated 23 per cent of women reported that such burden increased since the beginning of the crisis.

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The pandemic has not only brought about reductions in household and individual income, but also limited nutritious food, while water and fuel have become increasingly unaffordable.

The survey showed that in countries such as Pakistan, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga, women have suffered a greater deterioration in food security than men. About 52 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men in Pakistan are currently experiencing food hardship.

Although women have been disproportionately affected in multiple ways, the report shows that accessing government support to cope with the effects of the pandemic has been a challenge for many.

Authorities set up programmes to provide medical supplies, agricultural products, financial support, and stimulus packages to people and businesses. However, the study noted that access to these benefits has been limited, with gender differences in some cases.


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Across all seven countries studied, the pandemic has also coincided with severe weather and other natural disasters. Cyclones, floods, droughts, landslides and other events have further strained the capacity of women and men to cope with the challenges sparked by the pandemic.

Almost a quarter of the population in Kiribati has been without power since the beginning of the global health crisis. In Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands the figures range between 15 and 19 per cent. These statistics exclude those who lost power but have since had it restored.

The gendered consequences associated with lack of access to power range from women’s lack of safety at night to increased unpaid domestic burdens for cooking, washing clothes, and cleaning, the study said.

The survey was rolled out in early September last year and data collection lasted about eight weeks. But the questions covered two years – from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic up until then.

The new data “points to how economic resilience programmes that integrated gender-responsive designs and targets led to better development results for women and girls who were left the most vulnerable by the pandemic”, said Samantha Hung, chief of Gender Equality Thematic Group at the Asian Development Bank.

But although some remedies have been introduced since the beginning of the crisis, a lot more still needs to be done.

“Moving forward, the Asian Development Bank, along with its public and private-sector partners, must ensure that gender data is fully integrated into post-pandemic policies, from design to implementation and monitoring, in order to ensure that women and girls are front and centre of inclusive recovery across Asia and the Pacific,” Hung said.

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