Seva Canada: Helping Girls See and Succeed

CanWaCH Gender Equality Blog Series

In 1999, two-thirds of all people who were blind were women and girls with the vast majority living in low-income countries. Women and girls do not go blind more often than men and boys, but they are less likely to receive eye care due to socioeconomic and cultural barriers; a fact discovered through research conducted by Seva Canada and their partner in Africa, the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO).

Photo Credit: Seva Canada

Seva Canada and KCCO have taken a leadership role in the gender and blindness global initiative, pioneering almost two decades of improvement in this area. Seva and KCCO were the first to publish a study proving the inequity in all blinding conditions in every region of the world and the first to study and implement strategies to overcome the inequities.

Since the original research was published, gender equity strategies have been designed and implemented in all Seva and KCCO-supported programs contributing to the decrease in the proportion of women who are blind by 10% worldwide as indicated by the Lancet’s latest published statistics. However, the statistical improvement does not extend to girls who still make up two-thirds of all children with treatable blindness but are only half as likely as boys to receive care.  

Seva Canada knows more needs to be done today to create a better tomorrow for entire communities. With healthy vision, women and girls can go to school, work, and help lift themselves, their families and their communities out of poverty.

Gender equity in the treatment of preventable and treatable blindness is important to Seva Canada because women and girls bear a far greater burden of blindness due to lack of access to care; because seeking gender equity is an ethical imperative; and because treatment of conditions that affect women and girls is particularly important to the social and economic development of entire communities.

Penny Lyons, Executive Director of Seva Canada
Photo Credit: Seva Canada

Much work remains to be done and in March of 2018 Seva Canada released a new Gender and Blindness booklet with updated research and strategies along with a multi-media campaign, Equal Right to Sight, advocating for gender equity in the treatment of blindness. The campaign includes an interactive website, video, advertising and PR and continues into the holidays with the story of 3-year-old Anjana in Nepal on her journey to sight. 

Seva and KCCO have found that simple strategies are some of the most effective ways to overcome the barriers women and girls face in accessing care. Strategies that Seva and KCCO want to share with the wider healthcare community to encourage the prioritization of gender equity. Strategies such as: 

  • Training outreach workers to go door to door to find women and girls in need of care
  • Providing counselling to families, offering free transportation
  • Bringing eye care to remote villages through Community Eye Centres

Seva Canada will continue to fund and produce original research on strategies to overcome inequity, to use these proven strategies in all of our programs worldwide and to share them with the international development community to ensure women and girls get the care that they need and deserve.

By: Deanne Berman, Seva Canada 

Seva Canada is a charitable organization that restores sight and prevents blindness in developing countries. Since 1982, Seva has given over 4 million people the power of sight through life-changing surgeries and provided eye care services including glasses and medicine to millions more. Seva works with local partners to create sustainable eye care programs that achieve long-term change, are culturally sensitive and reach those most in need – women, children and people living in extreme poverty and isolation.

Read Seva Canada’s Gender and Blindness booklet now. 

This post is a part of the Gender Equality Matters blog series which tackles a range of pressing issues related to gender equality. This series examines urgent challenges, profiles success stories and provides timely insight on key issues in global health through a gender equality lens. Click here to subscribe to the Gender Equality Matters blog series.