Gender and immunisation

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Gavi works with countries to address gender barriers and ensure all boys and girls have equal access to vaccines.

young  african girl

Credit: Gavi/2016/Voara Randrianarivony.

At the global level, there is no significant difference in immunisation coverage for boys and girls. Yet in some countries and communities boys are privileged over girls. In others, the opposite is true and girls have greater access to vaccines than boys.

Gender barriers can also have an indirect impact on immunisation. The low status of women in many societies can reduce the chances of both boys and girls being vaccinated, by preventing their parents from accessing immunisation services.

The United Nations' Gender Development Index confirms that countries with a high level of gender equity have higher immunisation coverage.

Gavi works with countries to address gender barriers and ensure all boys and girls have equal access to vaccines.

Common gender barriers to vaccination

iconLack of female education lowers awareness of the benefits of vaccination

iconWomen cannot access family income to pay for transportation

iconLack of privacy at the health clinic

iconClinic opening times clash with working hours

iconWomen not allowed to leave the home without a male chaperone

iconNo time to visit the health clinic because of household chores

iconInformation targets women only, even though it is often men who make decisions about the family


Health system strengthening

Gavi provides health system strengthening funding to help countries address barriers to immunisation, including those related to gender.

As part of this effort, Gavi-supported countries are encouraged to analyse and understand how coverage varies by sex, income and geographic location to help identify reasons for low immunisation coverage in certain groups.

Efforts to better understand gender-related barriers and activities are crucial to find solutions to these often subtle but important obstacles, which may prevent both boys and girls from being immunised.

For example, countries can receive support to help ensure that female health workers are trained and available to provide immunisation services to women and their children. In some societies, women are unable or unwilling to see a male vaccinator or health worker.

HPV and rubella vaccines

Gavi supports two vaccines that particularly benefit women’s and girls’ health: human papillomavirus (HPV) and rubella vaccines.

HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. Over 85% of deaths from cervical cancer occur in developing countries, where women often lack access to screening and treatment. Vaccinating adolescent girls before they are exposed to the virus can prevent up to 90% of all cervical cancer cases.

By 2020, approximately 40 million girls in Gavi-supported countries are expected to have been immunised with HPV vaccine.

Rubella can cause serious malformations and disabilities in babies (including deafness, blindness and heart defects) if their mothers are infected during the first three months of pregnancy. Gavi helps countries introduce the combined measles-rubella vaccine to fight this devastating but preventable disease.

“If a man’s wife has just given birth, I go and speak to them and tell them why the child needs to have a vaccine. And they believe me because we are from the same village, and they see that all of my children have been vaccinated.”
Yusuf Ibrahim, Nigeria


Both mothers and fathers have an equally important role to play in ensuring children’s access to vaccination.

Growing up in the tiny farming village of Unguwar Daji in northern Nigeria, Yusuf Ibrahim believed rumours that vaccines were a plot to control Muslims. But when his daughter Saratu nearly died of pneumonia, he began to talk his beliefs through with physicians at the local hospital.

They explained that vaccines were there simply to preserve life. Yusuf understood that if Saratu had been given the right vaccination she would have been spared her ordeal.

A decade later, the father-of-four has become an avid advocate for immunisation. He goes door to door in his village, explaining to families why vaccines are so important.


Gavi’s CEO Seth Berkley is a member of the International Gender Champions Initiative, which brings together more than 100 public- and private-sector leaders to champion gender equality. Together, they have made more than 300 commitments to break down gender barriers. Learn more.

>18 million

Since its creation in 2013, the Gavi-supported global oral cholera vaccine stockpile has distributed over 18 million doses to 18 countries. In 2017, nine countries – Bangladesh, Cameroon, Haiti, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia and South Sudan – accessed the stockpile.


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