On January 26, Eyes of the world organized a virtual roundtable to exchange experiences and to share the work of gender diagnosis that has been carried out by the Foundation in recent years in the countries where it has active projects. The aim was to identify the barriers to access to eye care that women face in some of the world’s most vulnerable territories and what actions Eyes of the world has taken to ensure equitable access to health services.
The roundtable was organized with the support of the ACCD (Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation), L’Hospitalet City Council and Santa Coloma de Gramenet City Council. Speakers included: María Tavera Villén, coordinator of Eyes of the Sahara project; Ruth Bolaños, coordinator of Eyes of Bolivia project, in the Oruro Department; Alfonso Noboa, technician of Eyes of Mali project and Guillermo Martínez-Pérez, head of Gender Diagnosis by Eyes of the world in Inhambane Province (Mozambique). Bibiana Ruberte, head of Gender for Eyes of the world, moderated the event.
Barriers that hinder women’s access to eye health responded to patterns common to all four regions and relate to structural problems linked to job insecurity, poverty, lack of information and lack of vital resources such as water, among others.
- In this regard, one of the main problems is that women have fewer options for exams because they are in charge of household chores, childcare and the elderly. This is a job that requires involvement every hour of the day and their health problems are relegated to the background. In addition, as Martínez-Pérez pointed out, in the case of Mozambique, women are more reluctant to accept medical help than men, as they know that no one will fill their role in the family or receive the necessary support in the recovery stage. In this regard, the report prepared in the region also identified discriminatory treatment for women in health centers who are discharged faster than men so that they can return to the household chores as soon as possible.
- Secondly, there is a general lack of information that is exacerbated in the case of women, as they are always in the home, their degree of socialization is very low and they have lower levels of schooling. As Bolaños explained, in the case of Bolivia, many women with eye diseases believe that there is no medical solution to their problem, which is associated with age, and resort primarily to traditional medicine, which in many cases worsens the disease situation. In the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf (Algeria), this pattern is also repeated in which women prefer to go first, due to lack of information on sight and centers where they could be treated, to traditional medicine.
- Third, there are infrastructure problems to get to health centers or lack of financial resources to travel or assume the costs of eye care. Bolaños set the example that in a family in which all members need glasses, in most cases, the attention of the husband and male children will be prioritized, as it is considered that women do not have as much need because their jobs don’t need as much visual acuity. In the case of Sahrawi refugee camps and refugees, Tavera commented that the nearest surgical center is 800 kilometers away and is an unaffordable travel cost for many women.
- Fourth, lack of food or lack of access to water also affects women more severely. In the case of Mali, as Noboa explained, 70% of women are in poverty compared to 46% of men. As a result, the diet of men who have to go to work is given priority, and women suffer from more health problems due to poor nutrition. In the case of Mali, in addition, pathologies such as trachoma are labeled as a feminized disease due to the fact that hygiene is essential in combating it and women are more exposed to it due to the lack of sanitation of the houses and lack of access to water.
- One of the main causes of barriers to women’s access to eye health is violence. Some women suffer from vision problems because of the blows they receive from their parents or husbands since their youth. And in Mozambique it is also common for women to be abandoned or in extreme poverty as a result of blindness.
With the aim of reversing the situations of inequality towards women that are generated in these regions, Eyes of the world carries out several specific actions in each of the four territories of action:
In order to improve the economic situation of women in Mali, an activity is being carried out to provide microcredit to vulnerable women to develop small projects. In addition, through CAFO, a group of feminist NGOs, they are also provided with training in accounting and project management so that, with the money, they can create a business that provides them with autonomy and own resources.
Together with CAFO, the issue is also being addressed in schools where informative talks are held to achieve gender equality and specific cases are detected that need treatment or exams.
Radio information campaigns are also being conducted to help women know what centers and resources are available for vision problems.
In the case of Bolivia, work is currently underway to forge alliances with people and organizations working for gender equality. The common goal is to spread the word to more women who are vulnerable. Not only is it important for women to have the tools they need to go to the doctor, but they also need to be empowered with their own eye health. The project seeks to increase their self-esteem and leadership ability.
Nursery schools are also being set up in eventual ophthalmology campaigns so that women can leave their children and take the time necessary for their health.
Finally, action is also being taken in the education sector to train teachers in gender equity and the promotion of equality actions.
In 2019, a package of 30 general recommendations was proposed to ensure the eye care of the entire population without discrimination. These measures took into account intersectionality with particular relevance to women and sexual minorities.
Among the measures we find proposals for awareness, education for health workers and equal treatment in both schools and health centers.
In the legislative field, it was proposed that women no longer have to present an authorization from their husbands in order to undergo a surgery, or that maternal authorizations be accepted when it comes to children surgery.
Since the study was conducted, the Eyes of Mozambique project has incorporated issues to improve women’s access to eye care, such as working with traditional physicians and new masculinities.
Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf
Training in women’s eye health is being prioritized in the Sahara. Informative talks are held in the dawaïr (as the town councils of the region are called), as they are places that women frequent on a regular basis.
We also try to network and establish agreements with women’s associations in order to inform and create community.
Finally, women are given priority when it comes to surgery or care over men.
Video of the virtual roundtable on gender equity in women’s access to eye health in low-income countries.