How do we reach more women and girls?

Regional Program Manager, IAPB Western Pacific
Organisation: IAPB

Great ideas shared on eye health for women in girls at our regional forum in Cambodia
Great ideas shared on eye health for women in girls at our regional forum in Cambodia

The Global Burden of Disease study shows 60% of global blindness is among women, and recent surveys in the Western Pacific show an even greater imbalance in some areas.

As Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014-19 prioritises “equity” as its first principle and approach, it is clear that in eye health we need to do more to reach women and girls.

In the Western Pacific, IAPB is working to develop and share information on good practice programs for women and girls, and support members and partners to develop gender-sensitive interventions. As a first step, IAPB partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation to deliver a 2-day learning forum for participants across countries of the Asia and the Pacific to talk about what works, and how to tailor services for women and girls.

Held in Phnom Penh in November, the forum was funded by the Australian Government, a donor with a strong commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Across the aid program, 80% of Australian Aid investments need to address gender in their implementation. In Cambodia and other countries, the Australian Government has supported health sector analyses to identify barriers and plan responses.

The two days were jam-packed with information, discussion and networking. More than 45 people took part from Cambodia’s National Program for Eye Health, as well as IAPB member organisations from across the region and invited speakers from UN Women Cambodia and Marie Stopes International Cambodia.

While there was lots of information and more work is needed to refine the examples, here are six take-away tips and principles that I noted during the forum: 

  1. Where possible, screenings and treatment should be provided in communities, close to home or in the work place. Outreach services should be tailored and timed to maximise participation of women and girls.
     
  2. Partnerships with womens associations, the womens agency or ministry in the government, maternal and child health services, gender-focused NGOs and microfinance networks can strengthen and better target programs for women and girls.
     
  3. Data should be disaggregated according to gender and age wherever possible. What’s even more important is that we take the time to analyse the data, compare it to the demographics of the community and question why gender gaps exist. NGOs should set a good example in collecting and analysing information by gender. Qualitative information is critical to understanding why barriers exist.
     
  4. In the eye care workforce, women need to be supported and mentored. Women often need to work extra hard to negotiate for resources to do their clinical work, and they need to balance family commitments as well as manage overt and subtle forms of discrimination.
     
  5. On an individual level, women should be encouraged to look after their own well-being and love their health as much as their children.
     
  6. It is not enough for service data to report an equal 50/50 split with men compared to women. Sightsavers has an organisation-wide target, which encourages services to reach a higher number of women than men.

A full report on the forum’s discussion is being prepared and after that, the Fred Hollows Foundation will lead work to document case studies and good practice principles, drawing on the input, evidence and experience of IAPB members. Presentations from the forum are on the IAPB Western Pacific regional website.