Most low-income countries will have to wait until 2023 to get broad access to vaccines. All the while, the economic, educational, health and social devastation for women and girls will only get worse and stronger.
Officials at Jalandhar Civil Hospital in India will hand over the vaccine to workers at a community health center in January 2021. (Sarabjit Singh / Tribune India)
Unfortunately, women are not lacking in bad news these days. In the US, the pandemic recession hasn’t let up for us – while we made some progress on unemployment in July, we should see the same gains for the rest of the year to make up for the number of jobs we lost to COVID – 19th
History teaches us around the world that the ongoing crises in Haiti and Afghanistan will hit women harder.
Furthermore, the threat from the pandemic remains both in the US with the advent of the Delta variant here and around the world as most of the world may wait for a vaccine for years. Inaction will have dire consequences: we could potentially lose generations of advances for women and girls around the world. We have to solve the vaccine capital crisis to have a chance to solve the rest.
How shall we do it? As world leaders, Nobel Prize winners, and global health experts have called for, President Joe Biden must put his weight and influence behind America’s support for World Trade Organization intellectual property renunciation. It was a big step for the US to support that waiver, but very little has happened in the months since.
We in the United States must use our considerable power to get other wealthy governments to support the renunciation, while transferring vaccine prescriptions and technology to lower-income countries. This would allow countries to make their own vaccines and quickly eradicate the massive inequality we are currently seeing in global access to vaccines. Currently, 81 percent of vaccine doses went to wealthier countries, while less than 3 percent went to low-income countries.
Those of us in wealthy countries must demand, organize and fight to end vaccine apartheid and repair the system that brought us here. This includes reforming the monopoly global drug system, from drug development to distribution, to address the structural inequalities that led to the vaccine apartheid we see today. As a young legal aid lawyer in India, I witnessed the horrors of these injustices first hand two decades ago.
One of the first clients I met was a married couple and their three young children. As the young children were walking around my office, my parents told me that they both had HIV. The mother was recently infected, but knew that in the inevitable event of her death, she would have to ensure that the guardianship of her children was transferred. The worst part of the situation is that the HIV drugs existed for her and her husband, but could not afford them.
We are now in a similar situation, where it is estimated that at least two million children have already lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. Many of these lost parents could have been saved with access to a vaccine.
Fortunately, many are working to fight vaccine apartheid, which is worsening the suffering women around the world are suffering from the pandemic. These groups include the Feminists for a People’s Vaccine coalition, made up of activists and experts from around the world, raising awareness that the fight for vaccine equality is a fight for gender equality. As I have already written here, there is always a dispute over access to medication.
“Geography, wealth, income, gender, race, caste, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors determine who has access and who not, who will live and who will die,” according to The Feminists for a People’s vaccination campaign . (Facebook)
On our current course, most low-income countries will have to wait for broad access until 2023. All the while, the economic, educational, health and social devastation for women and girls will only get worse and stronger. Women are over-represented in industries decimated by COVID-19 and make up the bulk of the low-wage jobs that have disappeared due to the pandemic. A recent UN Women report warned a staggering 11 million girls could drop out of school due to the effects of the pandemic. Previous crises suggest many of them will not return.
An ongoing medical crisis also means that women face far greater health risks. Worldwide, 70 percent of health workers and first aiders are women, and in low-income countries this percentage is often even higher.
All of these pandemic-related setbacks also increase the risk of gender-based violence. Worldwide, the increase in the incidence of domestic and sexual abuse during the pandemic has tripled. The U.S. is no exception – a recent report by FreeFrom, a group focusing on the connection between intimate partner violence and economic security, found that survivors of abuse (mostly women) were four times more likely than the average adult to be involved with food or drink Housing insecurity were faced last year. Survivors also report that the pandemic has curtailed what were already meager options – from the stress of having fewer financial resources to slowing legal proceedings that delay vital revenues like child support.
This is a once in a lifetime moment to change the course of history, to finally end the pandemic and focus on mending what was lost – especially for women. The effects of what we do now will be felt for generations. It is time for all of us to step up and ask our leaders to fight for women and girls, both here and around the world.
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