Unless women and girls are given the opportunity to their rightful education, and their rightful healthcare, their capacity to participate in public life, in electoral processes, and ultimately, to lead politically to build peace, to be involved in peace processes is all affected by them being prevented from full participation in education. – H.E Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland, UN Friends of Vision
Good vision and eye health unlocks people’s potential to get an education, earn a living and maintain well-being.
Vision loss contributes to gender inequalities and is an outcome of gender inequality
Recording and analysing disaggregated data allows us to understand what disparities exist, explore why and look for solutions to ensure the eye care needs of women are being met.
The data tells us that disparities exist across many levels
Although women have a longer life expectancy than men, this does not fully explain the higher rates of vision loss. The persistent gender difference suggests that, in many settings, the greater vision loss experienced by women is socially determined. (2)
After taking into account differences in demographics, there are still 112 women with vision loss, for every 100 men.
The burden on women is higher across all age groups (Figure 2).
Women experience higher rates of vision loss due to cataract, uncorrected refractive error, and age-related macular degeneration as well as higher rates of ‘other causes’ of vision loss (Figure 3).
Women experience higher rates of vision loss in every region of the world (Figure 4). Importantly, there are likely to be further inequalities within regions, that are masked by national averages.
These eye health inequalities are even more likely to impact older women, women and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.
Data driven interventions
Being able to access good quality eye care is the key to reducing disparities. Relatively inexpensive interventions can prevent vision loss, but women are less likely to access them.(3)
Data and evidence from research, case studies, and evaluations can provide opportunities to identify where interventions can be successfully driven by data to target inequalities. For instance:
Training community volunteers to identify and counsel affected individuals and empower them to circumvent or challenge socio- economic barriers may reduce gender inequity in vision loss.(4)
Specific interventions such as community outreach vision screening services can increase equity for conditions such as cataract and glaucoma among women.(5)
Effective interventions address multiple dimensions of access concurrently. (6)
Good vision unlocks pathways to leadership
With so far to go to achieve gender equity at a broader sense, good quality eye health must be provided to women and girls at levels that is proportional to need. This must happen so that vision loss does not affect girl’s ability to get an education, earn a living, maintain well-being and ultimately have the capacity to participate in public life. To lead and be leaders and achieve and equal future.
Bourne R, Steinmetz JD, Flaxman S, Briant PS, Taylor HR, Resnikoff S, et al. Trends in prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment over 30 years: an analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study. The Lancet Global Health. 2020;
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: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2214109X20304885
Steinmetz J, Briant P, Vos T. Staring Down Gender Disparities in Vision Loss | Think Global Health [Internet]. Think Global Health. 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 8]. Available from: https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/staring-down-gender-disparities-vision-loss
Mercer GD, Lyons P, Bassett K. Interventions to improve gender equity in eye care in low-middle income countries: A systematic review. Ophthalmic Epidemiology [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Sep 28];26(3):189–99. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=iope20
Liang Y, Jiang J, Ou W, Peng X, Sun R, Xu X, et al. Effect of Community Screening on the Demographic Makeup and Clinical Severity of Glaucoma Patients Receiving Care in Urban China. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2018 Nov 1;195:1–7.
Zhang M, Wu J, Li L, Xu D, Lam DSC, Lee J, et al. Impact of cataract screening outreach in Rural China. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. 2010 Jan 1;51(1):110–4.
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.
For Operation Eyesight, starting conversations with the communities where we work has been a key step in improving access to eye health services for women and girls. It has also helped us build gender equality when it comes to accessing local health services more generally.