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India’s Covid gender gap: women left behind in vaccination drive | Global development



Deep-rooted structural inequalities and patriarchal values are to blame for India’s worrying Covid vaccine gender gap, campaigners and academics have warned.

As of 25 June, of the 309m Covid vaccine doses delivered since January 2021, 143m were administered to women compared with nearly 167m to men, according to CoWin, India’s national statistics site – a ratio of 856 doses given to women for every 1,000 given to men. The difference is not accounted for by India’s gender imbalance of 924 women to 1,000 men.

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with the highest number of people living in rural areas, has administered 29m vaccines. Of this figure, which includes first and second doses, 42% were given to women. West Bengal, the fourth most populous state, is also lagging behind with women receiving 44% of doses. Dadra and Nagar Haveli, a predominantly rural union territory in western India, has one of the starkest disparities: just 30% of vaccines went to women. Daman and Diu, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir are among the other regions performing badly. A handful of states, including Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, have given more doses to women than men.

Data on transgender people, non-binary people, or people of other marginalised genders has not been accurately tracked, with all groups falling under a singular category of “other”.

“Women are not seen as an important part of the family, community or society structure. [The vaccine gender gap] is reflective of the gender inequality prevalent in India, and even internationally,” said Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Asia Pacific and gender transformative policy and practice for Plan International.

Sofia Imad, a junior fellow at Mumbai-based thinktank IDFC Institute, has researched attitudes to vaccination among the urban poor population in Mumbai and Pune. She said there were a number of reasons why women were either unable or reluctant to get the vaccine.

“There is hesitancy because of rumours about side-effects, and how the vaccine affects fertility and menstruation,” said Imad. “But there are other factors such as women not being able to access the technology needed to register for it, not having information on where the centres are or not being able to go to the centres alone.

“Women often also need permission from their husbands to get vaccinated. Even if they get that, if their husbands are unavailable to accompany them … they miss out.”

A woman walks past a street art illustrating measures to protect from the spread of Covid in Mumbai, India.
Street art depicting measures to stop Covid spreading, Mumbai. Many vaccination centres are not within walking distance of households making it difficult for women to access them. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

Ram Kumari, 26, from Gurugram, Haryana, said: “I didn’t even know we had to register on the phone. I don’t have a smartphone. My husband has one, but I don’t know how to use it.”

She added: “I want to get the vaccine, and I thought of going to the government hospital, but it is too far to walk. I have no way of getting there, especially alone.”

The fifth National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2019–20, showed a clear digital gender divide. Of those surveyed, 58% of women had never used the internet, compared with 38% of men.

Julie Thekkudan, a women’s rights and gender justice expert with more than 18 years of experience, said: “Most men do not consider it important to register their wives on the CoWin app. Their health is not considered a priority and if they do not work outside the home then they are not considered at risk.”

She added: “Mobility also becomes an issue. If public transport is not easily available, and [the vaccination centre] is not walkable, what can working-class women do?”

Anecdotally, women report that men are given preference for getting the vaccination in many mixed-gender households. Neerja Sharma, 46, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, said: “My husband thought that it was right for him to get vaccinated first. Due to the possible side-effects of Covishield, he needed me to take care of him while he was sick. And if I got ill along with him, who will cook and look after the house and our son?”

INDIA-HEALTH-VIRUS-VACCINEPeople queue up to register and get inoculated with the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at an camp organised outside an Hindu temple in Hyderabad on June 25, 2021. (Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP) (Photo by NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images)
People queue to get vaccinated outside a Hindu temple in Hyderabad, 25 June 2021. Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty

Another concern for many women is that information on side-effects and how to deal with them is not readily available in an accessible language or format. There are also unfounded fears the vaccine could cause infertility, or interrupt menstrual cycles, particularly among rural communities.

Imad said: “A lot of the information that women get is through WhatsApp, which may not be reliable. Women have two kinds of concerns – one is that you cannot get the vaccine while menstruating, and the other that vaccination will affect your future cycles.

“Accredited social health activists haven’t been trained on the Covid-19 vaccines and haven’t been given any communications materials. They need access to community health worker materials so that they can alleviate concerns at the grassroots level.”

As companies prepare to go back to in-person working, getting vaccinated has become a priority for workers. A Covid-19 vaccination trends survey, conducted in India in April this year, found more than 50% of companies plan to facilitate vaccination for their employees and their dependents.

However, a study published in March by Krea University in Andhra Pradesh found that 93% of rural women and 77% of urban women are in informal employment, where most employers do not see it as their responsibility to ensure workers are vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the ministry of health and family welfare said anyone could walk in to a vaccination centre without preregistration on the app, making it more accessible for women.

But Thekkudan said more needed to be done to close the vaccination gender gap. “We need to encourage walk-ins and facilitate door-to-door vaccinations. We also need to create public health awareness materials, translated into regional languages and depicted pictorially. It is essential to put this vaccination drive into ‘mission mode’.”

Dengle of Plan International said it was not just an issue of access. “[We have to] address the social norms and root causes that create this gap. And it needs to start young: are we teaching our children stereotypes such as women belong in the kitchen? An inclusive curriculum is just one of the ways in which we can start addressing gender inequality which leads to such gaps in the larger scheme of things.”

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Funeral held for Roma man killed in Czech police custody



The funeral of a Roma man killed while in Czech police custody was held over the weekend. Stanislav Tomáš died after a Czech police officer kneeled on his neck, in scenes reminiscent of the murder of George Floyd by a US police officer in Minneapolis. Tomáš passed away 19 June, while being rushed to the hospital. The police have denied wrongdoing.

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‘Pelosi Republicans’: McCarthy Disses Cheney, Kinzinger Amid New Jan. 6 Committee Appointment




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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed on Sunday that Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has been appointed to serve on the US House-approved select committee probing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. This move comes days after Pelosi rejected two out of five GOP recommendations from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Though it appears the January 6 commission will move forward, the House Minority Leader did not appear to change the GOP stance on the matter when approached by reporters on Monday. 

“Some Republicans have been saying … that the GOP should play ball on this committee. You could get the three,” a reporter asked in reference to Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Troy Nehls (R-TX).

All three lawmakers received Pelosi’s approval for appointment, but they were ultimately held back by McCarthy, who demanded the House Speaker also appoint Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN). Pelosi has asserted that Jordan and Banks would endanger the probe’s “integrity.”

McCarthy brushed the reporter’s suggestion aside, arguing that Cheney and Kinzinger are the only House Republicans who would “play ball” in an effort for the commission to have a bipartisan quorum.

“Who is that, Adam [Kinzinger] and Liz [Cheney]?” he floated. “Arent they kinda, like, Pelosi Republicans?” 

Moments later, the House Minority Leader informed reporters that he has not decided whether the two anti-Trump Republicans will be punished for joining the select committee amid the House GOP’s boycott of the group.

Word of McCarthy’s latest dig traveled fast to Cheney, who abruptly panned his remarks as “pretty childish.” 

“We’ve got very serious business here. We have important work to do,” she asserted to reporters on Monday.

Both Cheney and Kinzinger are slated to meet up with their Democratic colleagues for their first select committee meeting on Tuesday. The group’s first witness is also expected to make an appearance. 

Presently, Democrats on the 13-member group include Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the select committee, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Elaine Luria (D-VA). Kinzinger and Cheney are the sole GOP lawmakers assigned to the committee. 

McCarthy has maintained that Pelosi is pursuing a “sham process” by rejecting Jordan and Banks from the select committee. 

REUTERS / Elizabeth Frantz

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announces the withdrawal of his nominees to serve on the special committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as two of the Republican nominees, Reps’ Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), standby during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2021

“Speaker Pelosi’s rejection of the Republican nominees to serve on the committee and self-appointment of members who share her preconceived narrative will not yield a serious investigation,” McCarthy wrote on Sunday, shortly after Pelosi announced Kinzinger’s appointment. “The Speaker has structured this select committee to satisfy her political objectives. She had months to work with Republicans on a reasonable and fair approach to get answers on the events and security failures surrounding January 6.” 

Republicans have also argued that the investigation should focus on why the US Capitol was not properly secured on January 6, despite reports claiming law enforcement had information leading up to the attack.

“The U.S. Capitol and the men and women who protect it suffered a massive leadership failure. We must make sure that never happens again,” the House Minority Leader noted on Sunday, claiming the GOP will carry out its own probe on the deadly riot.  

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How ‘super-detector’ dogs are helping free Iraq from the terror of Isis mines | Global development



On the wide, flat plain of the Sinjar district of northern Iraq, Naif Khalaf Qassim lets his dog, an eight-year-old Belgian shepherd, range across the dry earth on a 30-metre leash until Branco stops and sits, tail wagging, looking towards his handler with enthusiasm.

Branco has detected something underground and, when the mine-clearing team is brought in to investigate, they find an improvised explosive device (IED), known locally as a VS500.

It is about 30cm (1ft) wide, with a plastic casing and a central pressure pad. The VS500 is not the name Islamic State give the device; no one knows that. All that is certain is that it is one of thousands produced when the terror group held sway over this part of Iraq and commandeered plastics factories in their Mosul base, forcing the workers to make souped-up versions of the Italian-made VS50 landmine.

A VS50 could fit on the palm of your hand, and contains about 100g of explosives. The deminers call this type of mine the VS500 because it is 10 times the size and packed with up to 15kg (33lb) of explosives. The pressure pad is sensitive enough for a child to activate, even through 30cm of packed earth. The explosion can take out an armoured vehicle.

Branco is trained to sniff ahead in a controlled manner and stop if he gets a scent – so he doesn’t tread on the mine. Belgian and German shepherds are used because they are most adept at distinguishing scents.

“I knew Branco would find the IED,” says Naif proudly. “I believe in him and his abilities; I know him and what he can do. He is more of a friend to me than a dog.”

Dog and handler between two stakes on arid ground
Branco, with his handler Naif Khalaf Qassim, can do rapid searches either side of a known mined corridor

Four years ago, Iraqi forces managed to take the last stronghold that Isis had left in the country, the city and surroundings of Tal Afar. The Iraqi flag was raised on the historic Ottoman citadel at the heart of the city, and the militia was pushed into Syria.

The war might have appeared over by late August 2017, but retreating Isis forces seeded the towns, villages and countryside in that area of Sinjar with IEDs, and the job of clearing them is still far from done.

But it is moving at a much faster pace, thanks to the introduction of the small sniffer dog team, including Branco, and his handler, Naif, 35.

Mine-detection dogs are not new – the British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been working across northern Iraq for three decades. In the year from June 2020 to June 2021 the Iraqi dog team has found and destroyed 3,540 landmines and explosive remnants of war, including 670 improvised mines and 148 other improvised devices.

Now MAG has embarked on a specific programme to better detect the explosives used by Isis and other non-state groups.

Land mine with pressure pad on top
Isis made workers at plastics factories in Mosul produce the so-called VS500, based on an Italian landmine

Dogs are usually trained to sniff out explosives, mainly TNT, but the IED dogs take this a step further. Trained in Bosnia-Herzegovina, their noses are attuned to rubber, metal and batteries as well.

This is key where explosives are often improvised from domestic items such as pots and kettles, with detonators and batteries. Training dogs to focus on a wider range of scents allows for more opportunities to detect anomalies below the surface.

The new four-strong dog team (with two more on their way from Bosnia-Herzegovina) is currently working on 8sq km of land near Tal Afar that was used as a barrier minefield by retreating Isis fighters in 2017. While people armed with mine detectors painstakingly scour a known mined corridor, the dogs range across the areas either side, deemed low or medium risk, to seek out any randomly planted devices.

Woman in uniform and dog searching burnt out cars.
Vian Khaider Khalaf, with X-Lang, wants to clear landmines so families can return and farm the land

The programme for the “super-detector” dogs was curtailed until now by Covid and by difficulties negotiating with the administration in Sinjar – divided between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan regional government.

The dogs start work at 5am, so that they can finish before the sun is too high – last week temperatures there hit 49C (120F). The handlers are from the Yazidi community.

Vian Khaider Khalaf, 26, was a student before starting work with the dogs in 2017. She works to support her family in Sinuni, but like everyone on the team, her driving motivation is to clear the mines so that families can return to their farms.

Vian Khaider Khalaf says some of her family, as Yazidis, are still in camps for displaced people
Vian Khaider Khalaf says some of her family, as Yazidis, are still in camps for displaced people

“We always had dogs at home, as my family are farmers and shepherds,” says Khalaf. “I fled with my family in 2014 when Daesh [Isis] came. I still have family in an IDP [internally displaced people] camp in Kurdistan. My family are afraid for me, of course. But they are proud of me and see me working hard and bravely, and that makes me want to take on more challenges.”

Khalaf has worked with her dog, X-Lang, since she started with MAG. He was originally a mine-detector dog, but was selected for the IED upgrade training. She says: “The relationship between me and my dog is not really that of a human and an animal. He is my dear friend. If I could take him home with me at the weekend, or live on the base with him, I would.”

After their shifts out in the fields, handlers and dogs spend the rest of the day together, often around the pool on the base.

The team supervisor is Salam Rasho, a former noncommissioned officer with the Kurdistan military, the peshmerga. He is also a Yazidi and has seen the devastation of his community. “Our aim is to return the people to their land, to get people farming the land again,” he says.

It’s impossible to estimate how much unexploded ordnance there is in Iraq – one of the most mined countries in the world, according to some estimates. There is little information about where mines were laid over the past 40 years, from the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, to Saddam Hussein’s assaults on his own people, the Gulf War, and finally Isis. It is thought that in federal Iraq alone there are some 3,000 sq km of mined land yet to be cleared, with 8.5 million people living in close proximity.

Dogs in circular pool with rotator arm in middle
After a morning’s work the dogs can go into a custom-made pool that allows them to exercise in the heat

The real benefit of the dogs, says Salam, is that they can cover a huge area much quicker than humans – about 1,500 sq metres a day. The success of the Iraq deployment means that MAG is stepping up its IED dog training and even going to the next level – finessing the programme so that dogs can also be used to help clear booby-trapped homes.

Clearing Iraq of unexploded mines is a task that will take many more years, but at least now the land is being freed from the lingering grip of Isis at a faster pace than before thanks to Branco, X-Lang and the other dogs of war.

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