International Women’s Day 2024: Investing in education

Every year on March 8th, we come together to celebrate International Women's Day, a day dedicated to honouring women's accomplishments, highlighting the fight against gender discrimination, and championing women's rights. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the varied experiences of women and girls worldwide and to discuss how we can create an environment where every woman has the resources and opportunities to thrive.

One of the ways we aim to do this is by supporting women through their eye health education and in the workforce. Two thirds of this year’s scholarship recipients and almost two thirds of the our eye health workforce are women, which is significant given the educational gender gap in the Pacific region. While these scholarships, which can cover course fees, textbooks, equipment, as well as travel assistance for essential activities, help to reduce the significant financial burden of study, we also know that undertaking intensive training whilst caring for children is challenging, particularly when you have to train far from home, so we offer support for mothers and families. Once in the workforce, we work to provide deliver clinical support and mentoring to ensure clinicians have access to the resources needed to succeed, including after they return to their countries to deliver eye care.

Dr Alice Irafa from Papua New Guinea is one of the eye doctors we have been able to support in her training. She works at the Madang Provincial Hospital and is in her final year of her Master of Medicine (MMed) at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Dr Alice says that she is passionate about working in eye care because of the difference it makes in people’s lives, having seen first-hand how a patient is transformed after sight-restoring surgery. “When you see them on day one, they look old. Some of them they come in with a walking stick... To see them the next day being able to walk without the walking stick, able to fix themselves up. The joy that I see reflecting off from them - it's something that I couldn't even describe”.

While working in this field can come with a lot of challenges – like a lack of resources, shortages in the workforce and growing eye health needs - Dr Alice says it is worth it and she hopes more people choose the same path. “You get to bring a lot of changes to not only one person, but to a family, a community, to a lot of people. The reward is nothing that you can compare too.”

When we invest in women like Dr Alice, we are supporting not just the education and growth of an individual, but the communities and families they go on to support. It creates a path that others can see themselves in, encouraging even more women to follow suit, and ensures that women’s perspectives and needs are represented in the delivery of eye care.

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