International Women's Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to recognise the achievements of women, raise awareness about discrimination, and to advocate for women's rights. It’s a chance to talk about the diverse experiences of women, and what we can do to ensure everyone is given what they need to succeed.
In keeping with that our CEO, Dr Audrey Aumua, has shared her thoughts on why we need to remain laser focussed on gender, especially in eye health, where women and girls bear the brunt of vision loss.
In every region of the world, females are more likely than males to experience blindness and vision impairment. To address this, here are five key areas Dr Aumua says we should consider.
This means adapting our eye care services to suit the needs of the people we are trying to reach. In the Pacific, where women often live in remote or rural areas and may not have the financial means to travel, we bring eye care to them through our outreach programs. Women in the Pacific are also more likely to be illiterate, so we opt to use illustrated vision charts instead of alphabetical.
“This simple example shows how small adaptations can change eye health service access and therefore visual outcomes. If we seek to better understand women’s realities, we can better design health services to cater for all women.”
Delivering eye care can't be done in isolation, which is why a key focus of our work is to help strengthen local health systems.
“A key area of focus for us is working with health partners to better integrate eye care into primary health care and broader health services, including cervical screening and antenatal care, so that women can access multiple services with one visit. We know that this approach works given that many of the women we are trying to reach do not access health services except during their reproductive years.”
One of the most important initiatives we are involved in is supporting women into tertiary education.
“Almost two thirds of our 327 scholarship recipients who have graduated have been women – a truly fantastic achievement given the significant tertiary educational gender divide in the region. We know that undertaking intensive training whilst caring for children is difficult, particularly when you have to train in a different country, so we offer support for mothers and families. We also work to deliver clinical support and mentoring to the workforce remotely.”
Women are underrepresented in health decision-making roles, which has a clear impact on women’s uptake and experience of health services.
“At The Foundation, we have a dedicated focus on women’s career pathways, and investing in their professional development opportunities, so they can reach those leadership roles and have a say in the management and design of health services.”
“With non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, and diabetes, becoming the paramount health concern in the Pacific, the time to invest in eye health is today”.
Good health is imperative for economic growth and sustainable development. To ensure our communities are resilient against the shifting environment, we must take action to build capability now. This begins with investing in women and girls, which will in turn benefit their communities, health systems, and the economy.