Women are around 1.3 times more likely to have a vision impairment than men, and represent around 55 per cent of the 36 million people who live with blindness globally, according to the “Restoring Women’s Sight” report released by The Fred Hollows Foundation.
To mark International Women’s Day (8 March 2018), Vision 2020 Australia and its member organisations, among them The Fred Hollows Foundation, are highlighting the global gender disparity in eye health, and the importance of maintaining accessible treatment options for all people.
CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, Carla Northam, said “Women’s eye health must be a key focus for all countries. Gender inequality in eye health is clearly a global issue, and we strongly support all of our members doing this work locally and globally. Addressing gender imbalances in eye health will go a long way towards reducing avoidable blindness around the world.”
Ian Wishart, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation said, “We know vision impairment and blindness have far-reaching implications, not just for the women affected, but also for their families and for progress towards many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as targets for VISION 2020, we must eliminate all forms of inequity in access to eye care for women and girls.”
Significantly, four out of five cases of blindness are preventable, and can be easily diagnosed and treated.
Joanna Conlon, Director of Development and Communications at the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) said, “Not only is a majority of vision impairment avoidable, so is the gender imbalance. IAPB is committed to enabling a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in the eye health sector, both as recipients and deliverers.”
Underlying Causes are Biological, Economic and Cultural
The underlying causes of poor eye health in women are influenced by biological, economic and cultural factors.
In developing countries, women may be at higher risk of infectious diseases that cause blindness, such as trachoma, due to their traditional role as a carer that puts them in more frequent contact with children. Sometimes tasks that are only done by women, such as husking rice, are the cause of increased eye injury amongst women.
“It’s not only the roles women have in their family or community which can impact on eye health, it’s about working with the community to assess who isn’t accessing eye health care and the reasons behind it,” explains Director of International Programs at CBM Australia, Edwina Faithfull-Farmer.
“We often find women, especially women with disabilities, don’t have equal access to eye health care due to additional barriers they can face in their communities. Often, the distance they need to travel can be prohibitive due to perceived safety for women, or the medical needs of men in the household may take priority.”
Sumrana Yasmin, Regional Director for South East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean at Brien Holden Vision Institute, is a strong advocate for gender equity. “There is a growing realisation that to bring a change in any society, we need to influence beliefs, policies and attitudes through education and stronger commitment. I’m excited to engage with eye care organisations globally to improve the eye health outcomes for women and girls.”
Vision 2020 Australia is committed to working with our members locally and globally to ensure all women and girls have access to eye health and vision care services.