It is hard to put into words the excitement that was palpable at Women Deliver 2023 (WD23) in Kigali last week. Even before the conference began, there was such a buzz around so many people dedicated to gender efforts being together in one place. As the only delegate representing Orbis Canada, I was honored to participate and support booth spaces with both Orbis International colleagues as well as being part of the IAPB Gender Equity workgroup booth. Hosting booths provide spaces for dialogue and interaction with conference delegates, from all walks of life and identities, to share more about the connections between eye health, who provides it, and gender disparities. As a member of the IAPB GE workgroup, Orbis Canada deeply values the collaboration and concerted efforts to work together to raise awareness and amplify the efforts needed in the intersection of eye care and gender.
On Wednesday, the Fred Hollows Foundation launched their “Women Deliver Eye Health: Let’s reframe who leads it” report. Dr. Ciku Mathenge, our Orbis colleague and President of the African Ophthalmology Council, shared a poignant story about a formative mentor in her early career, named Richard. Right from her first year out of residency, Richard encouraged and supported Ciku to become a rising leader in eye health in Kenya. Richard advocated that Ciku be part of a critical training program around new techniques in cataract surgery, even though she had only been in her new role for a few weeks. Her story reflected two of the five key lessons highlighted in the report, including the importance of “creating an enabling environment by investing in and implementing progressing system and policies” and “setting women up for success and recognizing the role that training and sponsorship plays in supporting progression”.
Orbis also hosted a conversation on Thursday between eye health organizations around the impactful work happening in Nepal. Seva Foundation, the Fred Hollows Foundation and Orbis UK spoke about various programs and efforts happening in country and the need for additional activities to meet the growing demand for eye care. Sightsavers joined in to listen and contribute after the discussion around efforts being made globally by their team. It was a fantastic visual example of the importance of eye health organizations joining together as one, united in the cause to remove barriers and challenges women and girls face to receiving eye care.
I have no doubt the lessons and learnings from WD23 will be leverage for more impactful planning and partnership moving forward. It was a space to shine and demonstrate to all attending the need to be inclusive and thoughtful about the integration of eye care into the larger efforts being made to improve gender equity globally.