Why is avoidable blindness a gender issue?
Recent estimates indicate that 56% of blind adults are women, and two thirds of blind children are girls. Why is this? Women make up a disproportionate number of the global population living below the poverty line. Those living in poverty are more susceptible to vision impairment because of a lack of access to primary health services, poor hygiene and sanitary conditions, and cultural stigmas around vision correction.
For women, traditional gender roles such as cleaning and caring for the young, sick and elderly often place women in areas where they are more likely to be exposed to vision-impairing bacteria. Family responsibilities such as collecting water and care giving duties also present challenging barriers that prevent women from having the time to receive the eye health care they need.
What is the impact?
Vision loss in women can exacerbate existing inequalities linked to gender such as limiting education and employment opportunities for girls, and even resulting in community exclusion. This can increase their dependency on their husbands or other relatives and limits their decision-making power.
In the same way, the ripple effect stemming from proper eye health can be a vital step in reducing gender inequalities. When women are empowered to make decisions regarding their own health, they have the ability to improve the overall health of their families and impact their entire communities. If women have the gift of sight, they have more chances to receive education and gain meaningful employment.
Not only is empowering women and reducing gender inequalities the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. Evidence shows that empowering women is one of the strongest catalysts for driving sustainable development across all sectors. It enhances economic growth, improves education and increases positive health outcomes.
Our approach to SDG 5:
At Operation Eyesight, we’re working to implement gender transformative strategies, meaning that we’ll look at how we’re working with communities to make sure that we’re reaching and treating even the most vulnerable people. We believe that organizations must work with local communities to understand the barriers women face, take affirmative action in training and human resource development to ensure there are more women in the health care system, and remove the barriers to access to services.
We’re developing a strategy to empower women and adolescent girls to be active, equal participants with men to address some of the deep-rooted cultural and socio-economic barriers to good eye health.
We’ll also continue our practice of training female community health workers. When female health workers receive training, they’re not only able to make their own health-related decisions, but they’re also able to connect with other women and empower them to take eye health into their own hands.
“Operation Eyesight works with local hospital and government partners to provide quality eye care services to everyone – regardless of gender, age, ability to pay or other personal circumstances – while working to address the many root causes of avoidable blindness and remove barriers to health care, specifically and deliberately targeting the barriers for women and girls. I’m especially proud of Operation Eyesight’s focus on community outreach and education. We train community health workers – women who live and work in our target communities – to conduct door-to-door eye screenings and educate families about eye health and general health topics such as prenatal care, nutrition and immunization. This approach allows us to reach women and girls who might otherwise go unreached, ensuring those with eye health issues are referred to a partner hospital or vision centre for treatment. Community health workers also refer women and their families to primary health care facilities for pre/postnatal care, vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, etc. These are just a few examples of how Operation Eyesight is embedding SDG 5: Gender Equality into our everyday work.” – Dr. Mary Alton Mackey, Operation Eyesight donor and Board Director
To learn more about how Operation Eyesight-trained Community Health Workers are transforming their communities, click here.