HRC49: Reaching COVID-19 Endgame Together: Feminists Demand Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccines in the Global South

This statement was submitted to the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on Ensuring Equitable, Affordable, Timely and Universal Access for all Countries to Vaccines in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Watch a video recording of the statement here.

2022 marks the third year of the global population battling with the COVID-19 pandemic although several countries have declared the disease as endemic and dropped many COVID-19 related restrictions that were imposed in the beginning of the pandemic[1]. Since the first vaccine rollout in December 2020 until today, over 10.9 billion doses have been administered worldwide. From this number, 63.4% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It may be observed as a global achievement, but in reality there is a huge gap in access to vaccines for the people in low-income countries where only 13.6% of people have received at least one dose.[2]

Despite most countries in the Global North having successfully reached an incredible 80% vaccination rate among their population, many countries in the Global South are still grappling with extremely low vaccination rates. Not to mention more than 30 countries in the Global South, especially the Lower and Middle income countries, that did not reach the 10% immunization threshold largely due to lack of access to vaccines supply and deprioritization of vaccines distribution even when they are already experiencing 3rd wave of COVID-19 infection.[3]

Vaccine uptake and demand by many women, girls, and non-binary individuals in the Global South are influenced by the societal norms in countries with pre-exisiting gender equalities especially in remote areas. They often have limited decision-making power, lack of bodily autonomy and have limited access to resources needed in advancing their state of health. Vaccine equity remains a key hurdle for the most marginalised such as women, persons with disabilities, young people, persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities where they face vaccine access barriers. Addressing gender-related barriers when planning vaccine roll-outs are crucial in expanding immunization coverage to ensure no one is left behind.

Inaccessibility to vaccines in this global pandemic has robbed the people in the Global South of their fundamental right to health as accorded by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where access to vaccines is concerned. Everyone is entitled to the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and it should never be determined by geography, wealth or any other criteria. And for countries in conflict, attaining this right is close to impossible.

Even when vaccines are acquired, there are myriad of problems that occur before it reaches the end user which includes unpredictable vaccination shipments, nearly expired vaccination supply on top of vaccine hesitancy that occurs amongst the population. In turn, this will further push marginalized communities away from acquiring vaccines as they are often the last in the priority list when resources are limited. Feminists for A People’s Vaccine Campaign, a network of feminists from the Global South and allies form the Global North, discussed the discrepencies that are present in the COVID-19 initiatives such as the waiver proposal on implementing the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) and how many Global North countries block the effort in ensuring a free vaccine for countries that are in dire need and prioritizes profit over global solidarity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life saving vaccines or the raw materials needed are hoarded by wealthy countries intensifying the present inequality between the high-income countries with middle and low-income countries globally.[4] Vaccine monopoly by wealthy countries results in vaccine supply shortage for lower-income countries which in turn increasing the number of lives lost,prolong the struggle of said countries in recovering from the devastation of the  COVID-19 pandemic has caused as well as deepening the existing inequalities suffered by women, girls and other vulnerable groups. As for all of us to work towards the endgame for the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the Member States should ensure:

  • Support for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver by all Member States and eliminate export restrictions and other trade barriers on COVID-19 vaccines, health products, and any global trade policies in the duration of COVID-19 pandemic to allow equitable production, distribution and accessibility of vaccination and other technologies for the people especially in the Global South in fighting current pandemic as well as preparation against any future pandemic.
  • Address inequalities that have exacerbated Covid-19 infections among Least Developed Countries (LDC) , where vaccination has reached only 6% of the people. The equity issues needs to be addressed within the countries, as women, marginalized persons, persons with disabilities face access barriers. Disaggregated data on vaccine access needs to be collected at national level.
  • A complete review and restructuring of global trade policies and rules to enable and support developing countries, prioritizing human rights over patents and potential revenue.
  • Implementation of health systems through rights-based approach, based on medical evidence, non-discriminatory healthcare and maximum care for all
  • Open access to vaccines, denouncing vaccine nationalism, and encouraging countries to join and financially support COVAX.
  • Block the monopoly of any member state and pharmaceutical companies in acquiring COVID-19 vaccines and cultivate a more coordinated global response to COVID19

[1] Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/sweden-lifts-coronavirus-restrictions-madgalena-andersson-omicron-endemic/

[2] Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

[3]Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/01/14/1072188527/for-the-36-countries-with-the-lowest-vaccination-rates-supply-isnt-the-only-issu

[4] Feminists For A People’s Vaccine, (2021), International Trade & Investment Rules, Intellectual Property Rights and COVID-19: A Perspective From The South. Retrieved from: https://feminists4peoplesvaccine.org/issue-papers/issue-paper-2/

Vietnam

  • Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP)

Indonesia

  • Aliansi Satu Visi (ASV);
  • CEDAW Working Group;
  • Hollaback! Jakarta;
  • Institut Kapal Perempuan;
  • Kalyanamitra;
  • Komnas Perempuan;
  • Remaja Independen Papua/Independent Youth
    Forum Papua (FRIP/IYFP);
  • Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia (PKBI);
  • Perkumpulan Lintas Feminis Jakarta;
  • Perkumpulan Pamflet Generasi;
  • RUTGERS Indonesia;
  • Sanggar SWARA;
  • Women on Web;
  • Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan (YKP); 
  • YIFOS Indonesia

Maldives

  • Hope for Women
  • Society for Health Education (SHE)
HRC49: Reaching COVID-19 Endgame Together: Feminists Demand Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccines in the Global South

This statement was submitted to the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on Ensuring Equitable, Affordable, Timely and Universal Access for all Countries to Vaccines in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Watch a video recording of the statement here.

2022 marks the third year of the global population battling with the COVID-19 pandemic although several countries have declared the disease as endemic and dropped many COVID-19 related restrictions that were imposed in the beginning of the pandemic[1]. Since the first vaccine rollout in December 2020 until today, over 10.9 billion doses have been administered worldwide. From this number, 63.4% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It may be observed as a global achievement, but in reality there is a huge gap in access to vaccines for the people in low-income countries where only 13.6% of people have received at least one dose.[2]

Despite most countries in the Global North having successfully reached an incredible 80% vaccination rate among their population, many countries in the Global South are still grappling with extremely low vaccination rates. Not to mention more than 30 countries in the Global South, especially the Lower and Middle income countries, that did not reach the 10% immunization threshold largely due to lack of access to vaccines supply and deprioritization of vaccines distribution even when they are already experiencing 3rd wave of COVID-19 infection.[3]

Vaccine uptake and demand by many women, girls, and non-binary individuals in the Global South are influenced by the societal norms in countries with pre-exisiting gender equalities especially in remote areas. They often have limited decision-making power, lack of bodily autonomy and have limited access to resources needed in advancing their state of health. Vaccine equity remains a key hurdle for the most marginalised such as women, persons with disabilities, young people, persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identities where they face vaccine access barriers. Addressing gender-related barriers when planning vaccine roll-outs are crucial in expanding immunization coverage to ensure no one is left behind.

Inaccessibility to vaccines in this global pandemic has robbed the people in the Global South of their fundamental right to health as accorded by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights where access to vaccines is concerned. Everyone is entitled to the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and it should never be determined by geography, wealth or any other criteria. And for countries in conflict, attaining this right is close to impossible.

Even when vaccines are acquired, there are myriad of problems that occur before it reaches the end user which includes unpredictable vaccination shipments, nearly expired vaccination supply on top of vaccine hesitancy that occurs amongst the population. In turn, this will further push marginalized communities away from acquiring vaccines as they are often the last in the priority list when resources are limited. Feminists for A People’s Vaccine Campaign, a network of feminists from the Global South and allies form the Global North, discussed the discrepencies that are present in the COVID-19 initiatives such as the waiver proposal on implementing the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) and how many Global North countries block the effort in ensuring a free vaccine for countries that are in dire need and prioritizes profit over global solidarity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life saving vaccines or the raw materials needed are hoarded by wealthy countries intensifying the present inequality between the high-income countries with middle and low-income countries globally.[4] Vaccine monopoly by wealthy countries results in vaccine supply shortage for lower-income countries which in turn increasing the number of lives lost,prolong the struggle of said countries in recovering from the devastation of the  COVID-19 pandemic has caused as well as deepening the existing inequalities suffered by women, girls and other vulnerable groups. As for all of us to work towards the endgame for the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the Member States should ensure:

  • Support for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver by all Member States and eliminate export restrictions and other trade barriers on COVID-19 vaccines, health products, and any global trade policies in the duration of COVID-19 pandemic to allow equitable production, distribution and accessibility of vaccination and other technologies for the people especially in the Global South in fighting current pandemic as well as preparation against any future pandemic.
  • Address inequalities that have exacerbated Covid-19 infections among Least Developed Countries (LDC) , where vaccination has reached only 6% of the people. The equity issues needs to be addressed within the countries, as women, marginalized persons, persons with disabilities face access barriers. Disaggregated data on vaccine access needs to be collected at national level.
  • A complete review and restructuring of global trade policies and rules to enable and support developing countries, prioritizing human rights over patents and potential revenue.
  • Implementation of health systems through rights-based approach, based on medical evidence, non-discriminatory healthcare and maximum care for all
  • Open access to vaccines, denouncing vaccine nationalism, and encouraging countries to join and financially support COVAX.
  • Block the monopoly of any member state and pharmaceutical companies in acquiring COVID-19 vaccines and cultivate a more coordinated global response to COVID19

[1] Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/sweden-lifts-coronavirus-restrictions-madgalena-andersson-omicron-endemic/

[2] Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

[3]Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/01/14/1072188527/for-the-36-countries-with-the-lowest-vaccination-rates-supply-isnt-the-only-issu

[4] Feminists For A People’s Vaccine, (2021), International Trade & Investment Rules, Intellectual Property Rights and COVID-19: A Perspective From The South. Retrieved from: https://feminists4peoplesvaccine.org/issue-papers/issue-paper-2/

Morocco

  • Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (AMPF),
  • Morocco Family Planning Association

India

  • CommonHealth;
  • Love Matters India;
  • Pravah;
  • Rural Women’s Social Education Centre (RUWSEC);
  • SAHAYOG;
  • Sahaj;
  • Sahiyo;
  • SAMA – Resource Group for Women and Health;
  • WeSpeakOut;
  • The YP Foundation (TYPF)

Lao PDR

  • Lao Women’s Union;
  • The Faculty of Postgraduate Studies at the University of Health
    Sciences (UHS)

Sri Lanka

  • Bakamoono;
  • Women and Media Collective (WMC),
  • Youth Advocacy Network – Sri Lanka (YANSL)

Malaysia

  • Federation of Reproductive Health Associations of Malaysia (FRHAM);
  • Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG);
  • Justice for Sisters (JFS);
  • Reproductive Health Association of
    Kelantan (ReHAK);
  • Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM);
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)

Maldives

  • Hope for Women;
  • Society for Health Education (SHE)

Myanmar

  • Colourful Girls Organization;
  • Green Lotus Myanmar

Nepal

  • Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC);
  • Blind Youth Association of Nepal;
  • Blue Diamond Society (BDS);
  • Nepalese Youth for Climate Action (NYCA);
  • Visible Impact;
  • Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC);
  • YPEER Nepal;
  • YUWA

Pakistan

  • Aahung, Centre for Social Policy Development (CSPD);
  • Forum for Dignity Initiative (FDI);
  • Gravity Development Organization; Green Circle Organization;
  • Indus Resources Center (IRC);
  • Idara-e-Taleem-O-Aaghai (ITA);
  • Rehnuma – Family Planning Association Pakistan;
  • Shelter
    Participatory Organisation;
  • Shirkat Gah;
  • The Enlight Lab

Philippines

  • Democratic Socalist Women of the Philippines (DSWP);
  • Galang;
  • Healthcare Without Harm;
  • Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities;
  • Likhaan Centre for Women’s Health;
  • Nisa UI Haqq Fi Bangsamoro;
  • PATH Foundation Inc. (PFPI);
  • Women’s Global Network for
    Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)

Singapore

  • End Female Genital Cutting Singapore
  • Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)

Mongolia

  • MONFEMNET National Network