Skip to content

Resiliency and Capacity for Survival: Gender Equality and Eye Health in the face of Climate Disasters

Published: 07.03.2022
Brooke Blanchard Advocacy and Policy Manager

IAPB celebrates International Women’s Day with the theme ‘Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ as part of Focus on Gender Equity (supported by Santen). 

The United Nations observance of International Women’s Day 2022 under the theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” is focused on advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction; two of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Today, women and girls are being recognized as more vulnerable to climate related disasters than men. Their vulnerability is the result of numerous socioeconomic factors, such as access to education and health services, dependence on natural resources, and lack of formal employment and social protections. Underlying – and exacerbating – each of these barriers, is poor eye health; a public health problem distinctively plagued by gender inequality and a significant threat to sustainable development.

Evidence shows that women and girls are more likely to develop vision impairment and less likely to get treatment. Currently, 55% of people with vision loss are women and girls and 90% of vision loss is in Low-and-middle-income-countries. By not addressing the intersectional root causes and response mechanisms of eye health disease amongst women, as well as their under-representation in eye health provider leadership, they will remain a vulnerable population trapped in poverty and disproportionately impacted by the climate-related disasters. Perhaps the most frustrating part, is that up to four out of five women and girls don’t need to be blind, as their most common eye conditions, cataract, and refractive error, can be easily prevented or treated.

Our planet has always had natural hazards such as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires, flooding and high winds. But today, we are witnessing a scale of destruction and devastation that is new and frightening. Changes in the global climate are exacerbating natural hazards and amplifying the risk of extreme weather disasters. These natural disasters occur when the consequences of events triggered by natural hazards overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region. Any vulnerability within this context significantly increases a risk to survival.

Deep-rooted gender inequality means that, despite the incredible resilience and capacity for survival that women exhibit, the resulting vulnerabilities put their overall health and survival at greater risk. Women and girls suffering vision impairment are at exceptionally high risk of injury or death in an emergency due to hampered mobility. A study of 141 countries found that women are more likely to be killed during disasters, and at an earlier age; particularly in poor communities due to their isolation and responsibilities in the home. During the Asian tsunami in 2004, 70 percent of the victims were women. In the 1991 cyclone disaster which killed 140,000 in Bangladesh, 90 per cent of victims were women. It is unacceptable that preventable vision impairment for women and girls is allowed to heighten their vulnerability and put their lives at disproportional risk in our increasingly volatile environment.

Addressing the unique health and socioeconomic needs of women and girls in the context of climate disaster has the potential to transform unequal power relations that contribute to ending gender-differentiated vulnerabilities. We know that women and girls are powerful forces for change when given the opportunity. Therefore, women need to be part of the conversation and play a role in making decisions that affect their health and well-being. Together we can ensure our eye health programmes and interventions are gender-responsive, the female eye health workforce is well-supported and appropriately resourced, and women are included in policy discussions and decision-making. Gender equality today, means tackling the disproportionate impact of eye health on women and girls. Only then, will we succeed in a more sustainable tomorrow.

To learn more about the intersection of gender equality, eye health and climate change, please join IAPB and the United Nations Friends of Vision group for an informative and interactive virtual 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 webinar will take place on Wednesday 16 March at 8:00am (Eastern Standard Time) during the UN’s 66th Commission on the Status of Women. You can register for the event here.

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.

Image on top: Seeing the world for the first time by Jairo Mercado