Skip to content

Through Her Eyes: Women leading the path to progress

Published: 25.04.2024
Shrikant Ayyangar Lead - Communications
Mission for Vision

In April, we celebrate Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about the unique vision-related challenges and risks faced by women. This observance underscores the importance of proactive eye care and safety measures tailored to women’s needs. By promoting education, advocacy, and access to quality eye care, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month strives to empower women to prioritise their vision health, ultimately enhancing their quality of life and overall health outcomes. Aligned with this mission, we shine a spotlight on the inspiring narratives of women who have made significant contributions to advancing eye health, emerging as trailblazers and champions within this domain.

Understanding the Eye Health Gap

Before delving into the narratives, it’s essential to grasp the context more thoroughly. Extensive research highlights the significant gender gap prevalent in eye health issues. Recent findings in The Lancet Global Health reveal that women bear a disproportionate burden of visual impairment across various diseases. One primary contributing factor is the longer lifespan typically experienced by women, thereby elevating their susceptibility to conditions like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataract.

To pave the path to development, there is an urgent need to address gender-based health inequities and eye health cannot be left behind. Bridging this gap entails bringing vision care services closer to women, with a key emphasis on cultivating gender-sensitive human resources. Research by Mission for Vision indicates a significant rise in the uptake of eye health services among women and girls when Vision Centres are staffed and managed by female personnel compared to those with predominantly male staff. Establishing all-women Vision Centres has engendered trust and acceptance among female beneficiaries. In response to these findings, Mission for Vision and its partners have prioritised the recruitment of female staff and have tailored eye health programmes to specifically address this gender disparity by targeting women.

Meet the Eye Health Champions

Anjali is one of the many women in the eye health industry who oversees and manages a Vision Centre in Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh, India, part of a collaborative effort by Standard Chartered Bank, Mission for Vision, and CL Gupta Eye Institute. During her formative years, Anjali never imagined herself working in the medical field or leading a Vision Centre. She learned about the Vision Technician course from a relative and decided to study in this field. Seeing a lack of eye health awareness among the community, she decided to build deeper connections and then started educating them on the importance of eye health. She encountered gender biases with parents resisting glasses for girls. Anjali counselled them, broadening discussions to women empowerment and girl education. Her warm and approachable demeanour has cultivated a profound connection with the community, evident in the increasing number of patients seeking care. This surge reflects her unwavering dedication to making eye health accessible to all, emphasising her steadfast commitment to serving and improving the well-being of her community. Her dedication and tireless work at the Vision Centre not only inspired her sister to follow in her footsteps and pursue a career in the eye health field. Additionally, she willingly shoulders financial responsibilities alongside her father, demonstrating her commitment to supporting her family and contributing to their well-being. Her actions reflect not only her passion for her chosen field but also her admirable character traits of generosity, diligence, and familial devotion.

In stark contrast to Anjali’s narrative, Saroj’s journey epitomizes the typical struggles faced by numerous married women. Bound by societal roles as mother, wife, and daughter-in-law, they often lose their individuality and potential. However, Saroj’s tale diverges as she bravely stepped out of her comfort zone. Hailing from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Saroj got married at a young age. Her hurried marriage, prompted by her ailing mother’s wish, led her to forgo higher education. Opting to be a homemaker, she wholeheartedly raised her two children. Saroj’s visit to the Vision Centre with her son proved transformative. The Vision Centre, a collective effort between Standard Chartered Bank, Mission for Vision, and CL Gupta Eye Institute, aims to provide eye care services to several communities in the Dhampur region of Uttar Pradesh. During Saroj’s visit, Sadiya, the optometrist, not only treated her son but also motivated Saroj to pursue her own journey. Recognising Saroj’s potential, Sadiya suggested that she join the Vision Centre, offering her an opportunity for independence. Thus, Saroj embarked on her journey as a Community Health Worker at the Dhampur Vision Centre, fulfilling her newfound passion under the guidance of her mentor, Sadiya. Despite initial challenges, Saroj quickly adapted and gained experience with support from her mentor. With two women leading the Vision Centre, there was a surge in female patient visits and positive responses during awareness campaigns. With a noticeable prevalence of poverty in the Dhampur region, Saroj has dedicated herself to ensuring that all residents in the area have convenient access to quality eye care services. This commitment has elevated her role beyond that of just a homemaker, mother, and wife, empowering her to carve out her own unique identity.

While the staff at these eye health facilities attend to patients as part of their duties, individuals who voluntarily assume the role of an eye health ambassador demonstrate exceptional commitment. 75-year-old Monanabi was deeply moved by her own journey of receiving timely cataract intervention at the Vaijapur Vision Centre. This personal experience ignited her passion for advocating improved eye care within her community of Vadaji Rahadi Village in Sambhajinagar, Maharashtra. Recognizing the pressing need for enhanced eye health services, Standard Chartered Bank, Mission for Vision, and Tulsi Eye Hospital joined forces to address the eye care needs of communities around Vaijapur and beyond. With a particular focus on marginalised groups, the aim is to ensure equitable access to quality eye care services. Monanabi’s astonishment at the exceptional level of care she received at both the Vision Centre and the hospital, all provided without any costs, only fuelled her dedication further. Her commitment now extends to ensuring that others in her community can also access similar quality eye care services without any challenges. This positive experience motivated her to become an ambassador in her village, where she actively raises awareness about eye health. Thanks to her relentless efforts, numerous villagers, especially women from her community, have visited the Vision Centre and undergone necessary surgeries. However, Monanabi’s role doesn’t end with mere awareness-raising. She goes above and beyond by diligently following up on each referral, maintaining regular contact with the optometrist at the Vision Centre. Furthermore, she takes proactive steps by collecting the optometrist’s recommendations and personally addressing any concerns the patients might have. Her unwavering dedication has not only streamlined the workflow at the Vision Centre but has also significantly increased patient visits, earning her the appreciation and recognition of the entire Vision Centre team.

Celebrating the transformative power of collective action

While the anecdotes of these three remarkable women stand as testaments to their commitment and resilience, they represent only a fraction of the countless female changemakers who have played pivotal roles in driving progress in various spheres, including eye health and broader development initiatives. Their unwavering dedication serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of collective action in combating avoidable blindness and addressing critical health disparities. Through their tireless efforts, these women exemplify a steadfast commitment to ensuring that no individual is left behind in the pursuit of a healthier, more inclusive society.

As we celebrate their achievements, let us extend our deepest appreciation to all the women champions who continue to advocate for the advancement of eye health and other vital causes. Their resolute determination not only enriches the lives of those they directly impact but also fosters a brighter, more promising future for generations to come.