Celebrating women’s right to quality eye health on International Women’s Day

While we are celebrating the rights of women on International Women’s Day, some women in the world have to strive hard even for their basic medical rights.

Na-liu from Yunnan, China, is 70 years old. She wears a signature head band which is typical to the ethnic minority living in the province. There is a small pig house near the door of her house, and Na-liu used to work in the fields.

However she cannot work any longer, as she has been suffering from cataract for the past year. She cannot wash her own clothes or eat by herself, not to mention performing simple housework.  Na-liu has to be taken care of by her 15-year-old granddaughter, Na-luo, even if she just wants to take a walk around the house.

Na-luo has just graduated from secondary school. All she wishes to do is to leave the village, and work in the city. But her dream seems a long way off, as she has to stay home to take care of her grandmother.

Whether they are the one suffering from blindness or not, the burden of avoidable blindness falls most heavily on women and girls. 60% of the world’s blind are women. The gender imbalance in a lot of developing communities mean men control family finances and women’s medical needs are deprioritised. Also, discrimination starts early. If girls are blind, it's almost impossible for them to go to school and earn a better living when they're older.  

In Burundi, 3-year-old Cesaria was born blind with cataract. She was abandoned by her parents but luckily, her grandmother never gave up on her. Sadly for most of the time Cesaria was sitting all day by herself in the corner.

Her grandmother was the driving force in making sure Cesaria got the medical attention she needed. The Fred Hollows Foundation brought Cesaria to the only paediatric ophthalmologist in Burundi, who performed Cesaria’s much-needed operation. With her sight back, Cesaria can enjoy the chance to develop and experience childhood just like any other little girl.

Women should be able to enjoy the rights and opportunities that men do. Eye diseases are one of the most vivid examples to illustrate how women are deprioritised in terms of medical rights. Now Na-luo and Cesaria can work and go to school, which will make a difference to their future.

The benefits of investing in girls' education in particular are substantial. An educated girl is likely to increase her personal earning potential, as well as reduce poverty in her community. According to the World Bank, the return on one year of secondary education for a girl correlates with as high as a 25 percent increase in wages later in life.

It is no surprise that these impacts also carry from one generation to the next, with educated girls having fewer, healthier and better educated children. Investing in girls' education also helps delay early marriage and parenthood.

For women in developing countries seeing has a direct impact on living standards, education and poverty. Screening, education and treatment targeting women are all the easy tools that can improve the situation. It is important to raise concerns about women’s medical rights and their rights to access sight-saving services.
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