On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science as part of our year-long Focus on Gender Equity, Brooke Blanchard on the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change.
11th February marks the 7th Annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science which aims to recognize the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change. The United Nations General Assembly declared this day to be a global opportunity to support women scientists and to promote the access of women and girls to – and their participation in – science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, training and research activities at all levels. For IAPB and its members, it marks an opportunity to acknowledge that vision loss is a gender issue and that access to eye health and accessible, inclusive education systems, will promote upward socioeconomic mobility for women and girls, and empower them to pursue careers in the science fields.
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population but continue to be excluded from participating fully in the economy. Vision loss is driven by inequity; of the 1.1 billion people worldwide who have vision loss, 90% live in low- and middle-income countries and 55% are women and girls. Women and girls are 8% more likely to be blind than men, and 15% more likely to have moderate to severe vision impairment. For girls with vision loss, it is almost impossible to access education. Where they do, they face additional barriers to participation and learning.
Access to eye health and accessible, inclusive education systems in turn, promote upward socioeconomic mobility for women and girls, and can empower them to pursue careers in the science fields. However, despite growing recognition of the unique experiences and skills women and men bring to various professions, gender inequality is pervasive in medical science; eye health research is no exception. Women make up 75% of the healthcare workforce yet occupy less than 25% of the most influential leadership positions. The majority of work conducted by women is either underpaid or unpaid, leaving women with few opportunities for advancement or to care for their own health.
While progress is being made, most women still lack the economic, political, and legal opportunity to become their own powerful agents of change. Continued unequal health outcomes and structural gender inequity within the healthcare system will persist and be perilously exacerbated if women’s perspectives are not included more intentionally in planning, policymaking, and programming. Equity and diversity will ultimately produce higher-quality science that better meets the needs of society.
For this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in the Sciences, we must focus our attention on the critical role that gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls will make towards achieving our global targets on ending avoidable blindness and the Sustainable Development Goals. Our combined ability to achieve the SDGs and harness momentum towards universal health coverage, requires us to eliminate all forms of inequity in access to eye care for women and girls. Together, we will find ways to overcome gender inequity in access to eye health services, education and a brighter future.
To learn more about gender equity within the eye health sector and the global impact of vision loss for women and girls, please join the UN Friends of Vision Group on 16 March, 2022 where they will host a virtual expert panel discussion, How can eye health contribute to achieving gender equity and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change? The event will take place the margins of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Image on top: Female Burmese residents are in the Suture Lab Practicing with Pigs eyes/Anthony Minassian
Focus on Gender Equity, throughout the year, shares knowledge, inspiration and ideas from some of the world’s most innovative experts and inserts eye health and Gender Equality onto the agenda of the world’s most pressing development issues and is supported by Santen.