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Challenging representation in eye health leadership

Published: 15.03.2021
Jacqueline Ramke Associate Professor of Global Eye Health
Anthea Burnett Knowledge Consultant
Jude Stern Head of Knowledge Management
Gender disparity in eye health leadership

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.

When leaders reflect the populations that they serve, there can be substantial benefits. These benefits extend across health, democracy, economic growth and human development, governance, justice, and peace and security.(1) Currently, women are a minority in health leadership positions globally, which inhibits health gains among women, children and minorities worldwide.(2)

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” — Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 2009

The theme of International Women’s Day this year provides the opportunity to reflect on how far we have to go in eye health to ensure enough women are in the room when decisions are being made. This is essential to address the pervasive gender inequity in eye health—in 2020, there were an estimated 112 women living with vision loss for every 100 men, even after adjusting for the longer life expectancy of women.

The gender disparity in board members and chairpersons in eye health leadership was recently highlighted in the Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health.(3–5) Among member organisations of ICO (n=123), WCO (n=46) and IAPB (n=119), between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 board members, and 1 in 5 and 1 in 3 chairpersons were women. Among editorial boards of ophthalmology and optometry journals (n=112) fewer than 1 in 4 board members and ~1 in 9 editor-in-chiefs were women. Women from an ethnic minority were especially underrepresented.

“When women are involved in decision-making, in research, in knowledge production, women do not get forgotten. Female lives and perspectives are brought out of the shadows.” Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

These new data again confirm that eye health leadership is not reflective of the population it serves. Women are not involved to a sufficient extent in decision making, in research or in knowledge production. In 2020 the IAPB Gender Equity working group initiated an annual sector survey to report on gender responsiveness of member organisations, including progress on equality of representation in leadership. These data can provide a baseline from which we can monitor change.

We call on IAPB members to increase opportunities for women to have a seat at the leadership table to ensure women’s voices are part of the decision making and funding allocation that can enable equity of access to eye care services, so that women and girls can access eye care as readily as men and boys.


  1.         JustActions. The female leadership dividend [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 8]. Available from:
  2.         Mathad JS, Reif LK, Seo G, Walsh KF, McNairy ML, Lee MH, et al. Female global health leadership: data-driven approaches to close the gender gap [Internet]. Vol. 393, The Lancet. Lancet Publishing Group; 2019 [cited 2021 Mar 8]. p. 521–3. Available from: https://www.
  3.         Burton MJ, Ramke J, Marques AP, Bourne RRA, Congdon N, Jones I, et al. The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: vision beyond 2020. The Lancet Global Health [Internet]. 2021 Feb [cited 2021 Mar 8];0(0). Available from:
  4.         Yashadhana A, Zhang JH, Yasmin S, Morjaria P, Holland P, Faal H, et al. Action needed to improve equity and diversity in global eye health leadership. Eye (Basingstoke) [Internet]. 2020 Jun 1 [cited 2021 Mar 8];34(6):1051–4. Available from:
  5.         Yashadhana A, Clarke NA, Zhang JH, Ahmad J, Mdala S, Morjaria P, et al. Gender and ethnic diversity in global ophthalmology and optometry association leadership: a time for change. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics [Internet]. 2021 Mar 2 [cited 2021 Mar 8];opo.12793. Available from:


Disclaimer: The views, ideas, technologies or policy positions in these blog posts belong to the authors and do not necessarily describe IAPB’s position or views on these matters.