Sustainable Vision Health Services Advance Sustainable Development Goal #5: Gender Equality

By Pelin Munis, Ph.D., Executive Director, RestoringVision

As the United Nations states, gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Empowering all women and girls is critical to our advancement. As progress continues to be made, at RestoringVision, we are committed to ensuring women and girls, no matter where they live or their income level, have access to the vision services and eyeglasses they need to reach their potential and transform their lives and their families. Clear vision enables opportunities for independence, education, work, and well-being. It is necessary to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind because of her inability to see clearly.

Meet Rosa. Rosa, a seamstress from Mexico, struggled to make a living as her vision declined and made her work harder and harder each day.

Suffering from presbyopia – an age-related condition that can be corrected immediately with a pair of reading glasses – Rosa was so desperate to get her work as a seamstress done that she felt her only remaining option was to keep her granddaughter home from school to thread the needles.

In this heartbreaking example, we see how gender inequities are oftentimes generational, and arise out of a lack of access to and a lack of affordability of health services that are desperately needed – in Rosa’s case, vision services and a pair of eyeglasses.

With the intervention of RestoringVision’s programs, Rosa received a pair of eyeglasses, restoring not only her vision, but her productivity and ability to work as a seamstress to make a wage independently. The impact doesn’t stop there. Rosa’s granddaughter returned to school, continuing her education, and opening a world of possibilities for her own young future. In this case and others, RestoringVision’s work in impoverished communities directly advances United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #5 Gender Equality.

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision states: “Women, on average, live longer than men, and are thus at greater risk of developing eye conditions associated with aging. For example, in a national survey in Nigeria, the prevalence of mild and moderate presenting distance vision impairment in women was approximately 30% higher than in men. However, even after controlling for age, global estimates suggest that women with moderate and severe presenting distance vision impairment outnumber men by approximately 7%.” For women in low- and middle-income countries like Rosa, many of whom are living on less than $2 a day, the ability to see clearly is a lifeline to increased productivity and the ability to earn an income, thus advancing SDG#5: Gender Equality.

Marta, a seamstress from Guatemala, could no longer work because of her blurry vision due to presbyopia.  

“I would have liked to help my husband because he doesn’t make enough money, but I could not do anything because my vision was bad,” Marta said.

Marta’s vision impairment forced her to rely solely on her husband’s limited income, an example of gender inequities again exacerbated by a lack of access and a lack of affordability for health services needed – critical vision health care. With the support of RestoringVision’s programs and by gaining access to vision services and a pair of eyeglasses, Marta regained her ability to contribute to her family’s household income, gaining increased financial equality through restored vision.

“I feel happy that now I can work, I can earn money, so I know that the glasses are really helping me. We had to make an effort to get this job. We have to work into the night to make sure we get our quota done. Now that I have my glasses, it’s a great blessing to me because I know that I am collaborating. With the glasses we use, we have been transformed into different people. I have hope that I can help my family with expenses. I thank God because now I have my glasses. I know that I will be collaborating with my husband and earning more money.”

Lastly, a woman in Uganda shared with us her deep gratitude for her eyeglasses, which would now enable her to work again and contribute to her family. She went on to share that she believes these glasses will limit or even stop the domestic violence that had taken place in her home. A powerful testimony that speaks to the importance and impact of this work.

Women and girls around the world are being impacted by vision impairments that could have been prevented or have yet to be addressed. In some cases, the impact is spurring generational gender inequities that will impact women’s ability to earn a wage, contribute equally to their households, and live productive and satisfying lives. By creating sustainable programming globally, RestoringVision is working to change this. We are transforming lives with clear vision, impacting families and communities with the gift of sight. This work advances SDG#5: Gender Equality.

The WHO World Report on Vision goes on to state: “…Persistent inequalities remain between different subgroups of the population in accessing eye care services. In general, those not able to access eye care services as required include people living in rural areas, those with low incomes, women, older people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and refugees. Consequently, they have far higher rates of vision impairment and blindness.”

Together with our partners, we are determined to carve out sustainable access to vision services for people who experience barriers to the vision care they need in order to see clearly. And we won’t stop until everyone in the world can see clearly. By serving women around the globe like Rosa and Marta, we will advance equality for all, impacting their daughters, granddaughters and the next generations, leveling the playing field and contributing to the achievement of SDG #5: Gender Equality.