International Women’s Day is on 8 March and this year’s theme is ‘Choose To Challenge’, encouraging everyone to call out where they see gender inequalities and bias. Focusing on women’s vision is one way we as Essilor can do that.
The recently published Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health: Vision Beyond 2020 Report is clear on the need to address the pervasive inequality in vision care, where women are more likely to have vision impairment and yet there are many barriers preventing them from seeking or having access to care. We know that if we address these inequalities and barriers, we can help empower women everywhere. As the Lancet report states, ‘improving eye health is a means to unlocking human potential.’
The good news is that we are already tackling these inequalities. Our social impact work is focused on making vision care accessible to all and we are also creating opportunities for women through our inclusive business programs. While it has been a challenge to attract and retain female primary vision care providers in our Eye Mitra and Eye Mitro programs in India and Bangladesh, we’ve looked to address those challenges by working to build relationships and trust at a community and family level. Prospective recruits, their families and communities are also encouraged to meet and hear from successful female trainees. This has been very successful for both programs and today we are proud to note that 12% of our primary vision care providers in rural India and Bangladesh are female, an encouraging statistic for traditionally patriarchal societies.
To continue to attract female participants to our inclusive business programs we need to better understand the potential impact of female Eye Mitra. A recently conducted gender study is showing promising baseline results. Since becoming Eye Mitras, the women have increased their participation in community organizations such as common interest groups and more of them are now in leadership roles within these community organizations. They also report that other women in their communities are now seeking their opinion on important matters, a definite boon to women and girls accessing eye care services.
We must also continue to challenge the many negative stigmas experienced by women across the world wearing glasses, by drawing attention to their stories. Our Vision Impact Institute looks to amplify these stories to help drive home the message that these stigmas need to be addressed. These actions are helping to normalize the notion of wearing glasses.
Ensuring women and girls everywhere have access to vision care should matter to us all as a crucial step towards female empowerment. By challenging the inequalities we see around us, we can make real change happen, so this International Women’s Day, let’s all choose to challenge!