Sanjita has been working at Nepal’s famous Tilganga Eye Hospital for nine years. She longed to be an eye doctor since she was little. As an experienced eye doctor, Sanjita together with other hospital staff, often carries out screening camps for eye patients in remote areas and perform surgeries which restores sight to hundreds and thousands of people.
Sanjita is also a mother who takes care of her children and the home. As a busy modern woman in Nepal, Sanjita talks to The Fred Hollows Foundation about being a woman in the eye health profession. She also shares her thoughts on gender equity in eye health, given that women are 1.3 times more likely than men to be blind.
The Fred Hollows Foundation - FHF
The Tilganga Eye Hospital and The Fred Hollows Foundation have been working together for more than 30 years, and you have also spent nine years in Tilganga. Can you tell us about the changes at the eye hospital?
It is always been fun working at Tilganga. I feel like I was a learner then, and I’m still learning now. I think we are doing pretty good, but there’s always space to improve. For example if we can get simulators, these devices will allow us to actually train the trainees with the skills without contact with the human eye. I think those are the things that we need to skill up. Otherwise I think we are doing good.
For you personally, what does it mean to you to be someone who restores sight for people?
I think someone coming to you and saying ‘I can see’ is the most amazing experience you can have as an eye doctor. It is the sigh of relief you have when someone completely blind from cataracts or some other diseases can see. I can’t really express my feelings because it’s something to be felt. It’s the joy that a mom has when she sees her kid. I think it’s the happiness that you see in a patient’s face after surgery that drives us to do more and more.
What is it like being a young woman working in the medical profession, an area traditionally dominated by men. How do you think it is for women today?
I always wanted to be a doctor. Some individuals in my family had eye surgery, which also drew my attention to ophthalmology. It’s challenging, and it’s always the same all around the world. But it’s especially [true] in the developing nations. It’s difficult because it is the females managing the family more than the males in our part of the world. With my husband being a doctor, I have a lot of support. But women, irrespective of the profession as a doctor, we are made more responsible for the family and the kids. Even at work, I think it’s a little bit challenging for us. But we will definitely prove that we are almost the same [as men].
What would you say to young women who are thinking about becoming you know, a doctor or an ophthalmologist?
I think women are no less than men, and in our part [of the world] we’ve proven that we are better because we support the work and the family. If we look back four generations, for females [like] my grandmother or great grandmother who would be staying at home cooking and looking after the kids.
This has become a drastic change for me doing this all of this or the rest of the fourth generation down the line doing so much work.
But for the men, they were what they were before, so the progress is so much different. I think we should not forget [that] we have changed four generations down the line and we can do it better so they should join us. [Eye health] is really a good field of work. It is an art where we use our brains and our hands. I would love more women to join us.
So 55% of the world’s blind are women, women still face discrimination accessing eye healthcare. How have you seen that over your many years working in eye health?
I think women are deprived of health as such in general. And more for the eye health in Nepal, because being a developing nation, eye health is not a priority. If you’re blind, but you can still see a cow there, you will be okay. Eye health becomes a priority when the basic needs and health issues are fulfilled. For those who value or have the quality of life, it becomes more important. But if you’re educated, reading books, your quality of life gets hampered with even a small change in vision then that gives more attention.
So that is being given more for the men, obviously them being more educated here, and to allow them to work in offices. The reasons are illiteracy and that women are not able to decide for themselves. For example, if a woman thinks she’s ill, she needs to get permission from the men in the family to make the decision on whether she can go [visit a doctor] today or some other days later in the month. These are the major barrier for women not getting the eye health into the attention. Though we are improving.
Major statistics on women and blindness
- Over 20 million women are blind worldwide
- 120 million women are visually impaired
- 55% of blind population are women
- Women are 1.3 times easier to be blind than men
- 90% of blind women live in poverty