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The Department of Public Relations Management hosted an informative webinar entitled: A Viral Topic: Taking a Jab at Gender COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out on MS Teams last Thursday, 16 September 2021.

The webinar was facilitated by Dr Pauline Naidoo, Chairperson of the Department Research Committee.

Welcoming attendees, Dr Emem Anwana, the Faculty Research Co-ordinator at the Faculty of Management Sciences welcomed all the guests and speakers to the ‘long expected webinar’.

“To our guest speaker, Ms Kubi Rama, we welcome you to the Faculty of Management Sciences on behalf of our Executive Dean, Professor Fulufhelo Netswera who could not be with us at this moment. Welcome and we look forward to hearing from you, especially on this very contemporary and unique topic: Taking a Jab at Gender COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out. I must confess, I never thought about gender when it came to vaccine roll-out. I am really open to learn from you. Thank you to the Department of Public Relations for putting this together,” said Dr Anwana.

PR Head of department, Dr Veena Rawjee introduced the keynote speaker. Rama is the Executive Director of Gender Links, a Southern African Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that promotes gender equality and justice across various countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. She has 25 years’ experience working in NGOs and institutions of higher learning. Her main focus has been on media, communication, education, research, training and gender. She is also a former lecturer at DUT.

Speaking about the organisation she works for, Gender Links Rama said they have offices in 10 countries, project sites in five more countries and they are about to expand that to 16 countries.

Their key areas of work are around policy and movement building, changing the context and frameworks within which countries are working on the issue of gender and building movements in various countries so that they are held accountable. In addition, they also work on communication for social change and local action for gender justice, working with 400 local councils across the whole region. As South Africa prepares for local government elections, Rama said they know it is not going to be an easy one because people are dissatisfied with the level of service they are receiving. Women in decision making, effective decision making, economic justice, climate justice, sexual and reproductive health and rights are some of the issues that Gender Links tackles.

Focusing on her topic, Rama said in order for people to have some level of protection against COVID-19, 70% of the world’s population needs to be vaccinated, to achieve herd immunity.

“In order to do that the vaccine should be free, available to everyone and distributed across the board with no exceptions. Unequal access to vaccines is a risk, it’s a global health risk but more importantly it’s a human rights violation. We are seeing it in South Africa where unequal access is going to lead us into a few problems as we move forward. A quick global figure, 30% of people in the world are fully vaccinated and 42% are partially vaccinated. So we are getting to that 70% but slowly.

Africa is sitting at 6% of the population being partially vaccinated and 3% being fully vaccinated, so we are very far away from achieving herd immunity. As a continent we are facing a massive health crisis and we are facing a massive justice crisis in terms of this vaccine roll-out,” explained Rama.

In South Africa there are more women infected and the mortality rate for women is high. She explained that this is not the case across the world as in most countries it’s the men who are most infected and dying. This indicates that the country needs to be critical in how it rolls-out the COVID-19 vaccine.

Unpacking the state of vaccine roll-out across the provinces, Northern Cape appeared to be extremely low, followed by Mpumalanga, North West and Free State. Limpopo is one of the poorest provinces but they have achieved a high level of vaccinations. Eastern Cape, is looking better than one would have imagined. KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng, call for concern as being the sites with the worst sort of waves.

“We need to understand why these figures are so low, why people are not being vaccinated? What are some of the challenges? How many of those are men and how many are women who have been vaccinated? The need for sex disaggregated data is very important. This is a big Women’s Rights issue, also a poverty issue and access to certain types of services issue. We are calling it vaccine apartheid, that is what it is coming down to. The pandemic has impacted men and women differently, both biologically and socio-economically. More women have lost their sources of income, pushed further into poverty and precarious work. There have been increased levels of Gender Based Violence (GBV), the President has made much reference into this,” said Rama.

In addition, during lockdown, most women could not get to health services and there was fear of contracting COVID-19. Rama reiterated that the full consequences of COVID-19 are yet to be seen. She revealed that women comprise of 70% of the global health workforce, however they only occupy 25% of leadership positions. The disproportionate effects of the pandemic, if not addressed, it will affect the vaccine roll-out process, further exacerbating gender inequalities.

The important issues to consider in vaccine roll-out plans, is access in terms of mobility, access to technology, limited decision-making power of women in seeking healthcare and their safety especially the vulnerable groups.

Sharing some of the strategies to end vaccine hesitance nationally, the government needs to provide data disaggregated by sex, rural/urban and age to monitor equity in roll-out. Furthermore, Rama advised in awareness campaigns to address vaccine hesitancy which will be targeted at relevant groups. She also emphasised that reports on data and evidence from the ground, to amplify the African voice in the global campaign were being issued.

Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public Relations, Dr Elvis Madondo facilitated the robust question and answer session at the end of Rama’s presentation which was well-received by the participants.

Concluding the webinar, Dr Naidoo thanked Rama and the participants for their fruitful engagement and support in making the webinar a huge success.

Pictured: Ms Kubi Rama

Simangele Zuma

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