#IWD - Women are more affected by avoidable blindness than men

March 2018

On International Women’s Day, Orbis is joining calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls the world over.

A gender gap in eye health

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is the rural and urban activists who transform women’s lives. We’re celebrating the eye health heroes that do just that by working tirelessly so that people can access the eye care they need, and ensure that women, girls and people from other marginalised communities are not left behind. 

Globally, women are more likely to be blind or visually impaired than men: 55% of those with sight loss are women. 

There are lots of reasons for this ‘gender gap’, which sees women disproportionately affected by avoidable blindness. One reason is that women have a higher life expectancy, meaning that they are more likely to experience eye conditions that are linked to aging. But this is not the whole story

There are challenges for both men and women in low and middle-income countries around accessing quality healthcare: for example, a shortage of healthcare workers, or living far away from an eye health facility.

However, there are also important socio-economic factors at play that affect women primarily. Take, for instance, the impact of gender roles. Women are more likely to contract trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, because they traditionally look after children, who carry the infection. 

Socio-economic factors and gender roles can also prevent women accessing the eye care screening and treatment that could prevent or treat avoidable blindness. 

Because of gender inequity, women face additional barriers in accessing the eye care they desperately need, and are often left behind. These barriers include a lack of education, limited decision-making power and access to financial resources. In other words, a woman may not be aware that treatment is available for her eye health condition; or may not be able to travel or pay for treatment.

Furthermore, gender roles mean that women and girls are also more likely to bear the burden of caring for family members with visual impairment. Visual impairment can have a ripple effect in someone’s life – on their ability to get an education; find a job; and participate in their community – and it also affects their families and communities.

It’s clear that like so many issues around the world, sight loss is impacted by gender inequality and inequity. Orbis is working to tackle this. 

Eye health heroes in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, two thirds of those affected by blinding trachoma are women. At the same time, women are working to eliminate trachoma at all levels of the health system.

For example, Orbis works with Health Extension Workers – a cohort of female health workers who increase health awareness at community level. With additional training in eye care, Health Extension Workers and community health volunteers in the Health Development Army can pass on knowledge and information about trachoma, hygiene and sanitation, and assist with community outreach. They raise awareness of when antibiotics for trachoma infection will be administered, and signpost people for surgery.

Integrated Eye Care Workers like Tsehay, pictured, are nurses with additional training in eye care. They diagnose and treat trachoma, including through trachoma trichiasis surgery.

Women like Tsehay are our eye health heroes – fighting avoidable blindness, leading the trachoma elimination effort, and improving access to eye care around the world. 

Ethiopia Gamo Gofa Dita Woreda Zada Health Clinic Iecw Nurse Tsehay Tsenbalo Portrait02 Crop

Integrated Eye Care Worker Tsehay is an eye health hero