From wage gaps to unevenly distributed educational access, gender inequality spans far and wide. It’s no secret that the unequal distribution of rights, access, and opportunity among genders creates barriers. As the fight for gender equality across cultures wages on, one disparity remains often overlooked: vision impairment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women don’t have the same access to vision care as men.
THE DISPARITY AND ITS DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS
Vision influences all facets of life – from one’s relationships and self confidence, to learning abilities and workplace productivity. Yet despite its far-reaching impact, a recent study by OneSight and Smart Focus, a social enterprise originating at Stanford University, found that while the prevalence of poor vision is generally the same across genders, boys were more likely to have glasses at baseline.
“There are a number of potential factors at play, from the societal and cultural value placed upon women to the biased allocation of resources. But regardless, the reality is the same. Half the world’s population is at a disadvantage when it comes to a very basic tenet of health and wellbeing: the ability to see clearly.”
– K-T Overbey, OneSight’s President and Executive Director
The exact reason for the global disparity between gender and vision care access isn’t clear. One could argue that the three defining variables of “lack of access” act as an even greater barrier for women, who oftentimes have less financial power, ability to travel, and educational opportunity cross-culturally as men do. The primary barriers to access are:
1. LACK OF AFFORDABLE ACCES:
In many cases, vision care is too far away for people to reach it, even if they can find transportation. They must travel more than one day to an eye center, and they often miss out on a day’s wages as a result.
2. LACK OF PHYSICAL ACCESS
People do not have the financial resources to purchase glasses
3. LACK OF AWARENESS
People do not understand that their vision is a problem, that the problem is treatable and that there are places where they can receive treatment.
Researchers believe that contributing factors may vary across communities, with some cultural norms and stigmas placing priority on vision care for men.
In communities in which affordable access is a challenge, priority is often given to the main financial contributors, which for many families are the men. Physical proximity to vision care has also proved to be a barrier to access, particularly for women. Across many cultures, women are responsible for taking care of their home and children, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to make the challenging and distant trek to a vision care provider. Gender disparities in education and cultural ideals of beauty for women also play a factor, with school-based vision screenings, eye health awareness, and social stigmas making glasses less accessible or desirable for girls.
This inequality in vision care access can have detrimental effects on a woman’s potential, leading them into a cycle of inequality. For instance, we know that seeing clearly allows students to learn up to twice as much and perform better in school. We also know that when students with vision issues get the glasses they need, they become less likely to drop-out of school and have school-related anxiety. Inequality in vision care access among boys and girls creates a disparity in learning potential, which can ultimately lead to unequal economic opportunity in the future. This gap in gender equality is often greater in low-income countries, with major imbalances in rural and indigenous communities.
CREATING A GENDER-BALANCED WORLD
Across the globe, individuals continue to fight for a gender-balanced world. At OneSight, we believe that equal access to vision care among genders has the potential to help progress many of the barriers contributing to the gender inequalities that exist today, such as the unequal distribution of education, earning potential, and women’s rights.
Our charitable work provides free eye exams and glasses to vulnerable communities in great need, often serving rural and indigenous populations that otherwise may not have access to eye care. Our sustainable solutions place affordable, permanent vision care centers within communities, diminishing the barriers of affordable, physical access. Each of these approaches helps to eliminate some of the disparities among boys and girls by bringing high-quality vision care and glasses to everyone, everywhere – no matter their gender.
At OneSight, we believe in a gender equalized world. We’re proud to empower women worldwide with clear sight and employment opportunities. Learn more about some of the women staffing our sustainable vision care centers, who are empowering their communities to reach their full potential.
SOURCE: “Access to Eye Care Services for Children within the Education Sector A Systematic Review in Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” 2018