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Breaking Barriers to Vision Equality

This month, we celebrate International Women’s Day. In 2020, the campaign theme draws from a notion of “Collective Individualism.” As part of a much greater whole, “our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.” Yet collectively, we can make change happen. In fact, only through this greater collective will we create a gender-equal world.

Throughout the year, you will recognize the #EachforEqual campaign in social media.

When we consider this theme as it relates to vision care and correction, the solution must be addressed on multiple levels. In fact, when we consider that 56% of the world’s blind and 55% of the people with vision impairment are women, it’s a trend we cannot ignore. In cases where cultural stigmas are present, we must work to change the misconception that wearing a pair of glasses makes a woman defective. To the contrary, it allows her to be her most effective self.

At the VII, we have pointed out in the past that stigmas globally affect women and girls who choose to correct their vision with eyeglasses. While these stigmas often tangibly affect gender equity in the areas of learning, workplace productivity and quality of life, they also make one serious assumption – they most often apply to women who readily have access to eye exams and eyeglasses. Yet access to care is not the same for everyone.

So why are women on an unequal playing field when it comes to vision?

  1. In many geographies, women are responsible for the majority of caretaking and have limited time to seek personal health or vision care. Distance to a qualified provider is also a barrier.

  2. Often, the most influential voice is not their own. In other words, educating and encouraging the patriarch of the community or household to embrace a mindset of “effectiveness” over “defectiveness” when it comes to wearing eyeglasses is sometimes required to break down cultural boundaries.

  3. In some countries, women have limited access to schooling, where early identification of poor vision occurs and vision screenings are available. Since they are unable to attend schools, when their schools offer vision exams and other necessary health checkups, they miss this opportunity.

  4. Research across the healthcare continuum is often unbalanced toward men, as men are more likely to participate in clinical trials and research studies.

  5. Women have a longer life span, and 80% of the visually impaired population (both genders) is 50 years and older.

Ensuring women have awareness, access and social “permission” to seek vision care and correction will not change overnight. We must be dedicated to creating equal access to vision care for all people.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we can all be reminded of the specific ways we can individually accelerate, and collectively take action for, women’s vision equality. Every person should be empowered to see clearly and live her (and his) best life!