October 13 is World Sight Day. It’s an opportunity to remind people to love their eyes and prioritize their own eye health. It’s also a reminder of the importance of accessible, inclusive and affordable eye care for everyone, everywhere.
In much of the world, women and girls face social and systemic barriers to accessing health services, including eye care. These include cultural practices and beliefs, lower literacy rates, as well as a higher burden of unpaid care work and a disproportionate share of underpaid work that restricts their time and ability to care for their own health, including eye health.
For Operation Eyesight, starting conversations with the communities where we work has been a key step in improving access to eye health services for women and girls. It has also helped us build gender equality when it comes to accessing local health services.
“Our projects are successful in large part because in our countries of work across Africa and South Asia, we take a participatory approach to eye health – and that starts by having a conversation with people in a village or community,” says Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, President and CEO of Operation Eyesight.
“These conversations often reveal gender gaps, particularly when it comes to eye health. That’s why we focus on issues surrounding gender from the outset of a project.”
These gaps include lower literacy rates among women in many communities and disproportionately higher rates of vision loss and preventable blindness among women than men.
In one community in Jammu and Kashmir, with the help of a professional illustrator and facilitator, female-led engagement sessions with our local health workers and community participants have helped us identify several ‘gender myths’ and misconceptions surrounding women and eye health.
“These were often due to misunderstandings of beliefs about wearing glasses, beliefs about vision loss being a person’s fault, as well as practices such as preferential access to health services often given to boys in families,” explains Dr. Troy Cunningham, Operation Eyesight’s County Director for India.
“The community needed to be part of this exercise and provide the solutions. Participants told us the stories we needed to tell to address gender issues.”
The result? A series of 12 posters, including five focused on gender, which will be an engagement tool used by Operation Eyesight’s community health workers in the field.
“Our teams use the posters to drive conversations about eye health and gender myths during door-to-door eye health screenings and other education activities. Getting people talking about what they see happening in an image is often revealing about communities and their unique needs,” Dr. Cunningham explains.
“It truly was a collaborative process. When communities see themselves in a project, we now know that adoption, success and long-term sustainability are possible.”
80 women and men from the community attended the in-person engagement sessions.
In India, the launch of a mobile vision centre staffed entirely by women, as well as the addition of a gender expert to our team, are also helping us better understand how to improve access to care for women and girls.
It is the unique experience and insights of the communities where we work which will enable us to dismantle social and systemic barriers to care – and women play a key role in that.
This World Sight Day, take time to prioritize your and your family’s eye health.
Visit operationeyesight.com to learn how you can join us in our global mission to prevent blindness and restore sight.