Erna Takazawa: Opening Eyes in Oceania

These blog posts are part of the IAPB Gender Equity Work Group‘s work to raise awareness of gender equity in eye health.

Erna Takazawa: Opening Eyes in Oceania
Fuiavailili Erna Takazawa is Samoa’s first and only Optometrist. She is also a Council member for Samoa’s Allied Health Council, a workforce support consultant for Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand and a part-time lecturer at Pacific Eye Institute/Fiji National University training eye nurses from around the Pacific. She is the proud Clinical Director of Special Olympics Samoa’s Opening Eyes programme, which has delivered vision-screening services for around 200 athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities and has worked as a vision trainer. In 2015, she was named Samoa’s first-ever Queen’s Young Leader Award winner.

Why is it important to achieve gender balance?

Firstly, let me say that equality of opportunity in my profession (and all professions) is an absolute must. This is the only way to maximise the energy and potential of every person in our society and to realise the benefits that flow from there.

In much of the world there is an imbalance of gender equity in the eye care profession. However, from my own experience and speaking from the Pacific context, I’ve been extremely fortunate to not experience this imbalance. I feel that in our Samoan family/community women are supported strongly. As a female – my parents and teachers encouraged me. At University I never felt limited and my eye care mentors never treated me differently because of my gender. This has helped me become the person I am today.

How is your organisation working to achieve gender balance?

In my workplace in both Samoa and Fiji there are more women eye professionals than men. Also at the management level in our Samoa national hospital, there is more or less an equal number of women managers than men therefore we have achieved gender balance in our workplace. I do believe gender equity is of utmost importance because equal treatment, respect and opportunities that are given to men should also be given to women.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your journey?

The biggest challenge for me that I see at the moment as a woman in eye care is the balance between career and starting a family. Currently I wear many hats and have many different roles which requires me to work long hours and travel a lot for work and therefore starting a family is something that I’ve put on the back burner because of fear that it would impede my career objectives. I’m not sure if this is an irrational fear, but for me I believe this is one of the biggest challenge at the moment.

How can the eye health sector work towards gender balance?

In regards to gender imbalance in the eye health sector (and the health sector in general) I feel that I am part of a generation of Pacific Health Care professionals that is leading a change and is setting down a marker for future generations. I think through our collective personal success both young women and men will come to see what is possible with the proper belief, work ethic and assertiveness.