Many more men in India have received Covid-19 vaccines than women, government data showed on Tuesday, highlighting gender disparity in the country's immunisation drive that has also disadvantaged the rural population.
India has partly or fully vaccinated about 101 million men, nearly 17 per cent more than women. Men account for 54 per cent of the total number of people inoculated, according to the data.
Many federally administered regions, the capital Delhi, and big states such as Uttar Pradesh have seen some of the worst inequities. Only Kerala in the south and Chhattisgarh in central India have vaccinated more women than men.
"We are noticing that men, especially in towns and villages, prefer to take the vaccine before women as they have to travel for work, while women are relegated to domestic chores," said Prashant Pandya, medical superintendent at a big government hospital in the western state of Gujarat.
Health officials say rumours about vaccines disrupting women's menstruation cycle and reducing fertility have also contributed to the skewed data. The government has rejected the concerns.
"The government will have to ramp up awareness programmes in rural India to ensure women understand the importance of vaccines and prioritise themselves in this race to secure the two shots," said Sudha Narayanan, a former bureaucrat who worked in the health ministry in New Delhi.
Women will have to step forward to get vaccinated or the divide will rapidly widen, Narayanan added.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has about 6 per cent more men than women.
A spokesperson for the federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare did not respond to Reuters' questions about the gender disparity.
Some women in the rural parts of Gujarat and neighbouring Rajasthan state have urged the authorities to deliver vaccines at their doorstep, saying they are unable to travel to hospitals leaving their children behind.
"I don't know how to read and write...how will I register for the vaccine," said Laxmiben Suthar, a mother of four in the town of Vadnagar in Gujarat. "The government must send the medicine to us."