Last week marked International Women's Day - a date where we are reminded that gender inequality continues to pervade countless avenues of life, from employment opportunities and education through to voting rights. However, one of the most important areas of gender imbalance is often overlooked: healthcare.
Did you know there are 2.5 billion people suffering from poor vision with no access to correction treatment and two thirds of all cases are women? The unequal effects of this global health problem is not down to biological differences, but rather the result of unequal social structures, something particularly prevalent in developing countries. This also means that restoring balance and solving this problem is wholly possible through innovation and combined support.
At Clearly, we have looked through research to unveil the most common issues that leave women at an unfair disadvantage.
For instance, in many developing countries across the world, women traditionally earn less and assume the primary care role within their family, leaving them unable to afford the time or money to be able to access limited healthcare. With services often only offered in major hospitals, women in more rural areas will find it too costly and cannot justify lengthy travel commitments when taking care of children. As it is often more culturally accepted for men to retain control of household finances and transport, the structure of the household exacerbates the confines for women. Furthermore, the problem is amplified by the fact that women are exposed to greater risk-factors, such as prolonged proximity to children with transmissible eye infections.
As a result, many more women remain blind due to afflictions like cataracts because their chance of getting treatment is lower than for men. In low and middle income countries, men are almost twice more likely to get cataract surgery than women.
Similarly, trachoma is highly prevalent amongst women (1.8 times more than men) as the trachoma infection is commonly carried by children, and women are often their primary care givers. Trachoma in its early stages can easily be treated and cleared with antibiotics but the lack of detection and access to healthcare leaves them prone to the full term effects - blindness.
Inequalities like this are very often overlooked as chronic problems rather than health crises are given low priority on the global agenda. However, their impact is not to be underestimated. Persistent inequalities in fundamental human experience, such as poor vision, are preventing many women from fulfilling their dreams of literacy and education, and drastically hindering their employment opportunities and workplace productivity.
In order to achieve genuine progress in tackling this global health challenge of improving universal access to eye care, we must first recognise these complexities and commit to a more collaborative approach on a global scale.
Ingrained social structures are resistant to change so this will require hard work to overcome in time. But there are a number of available and simple solutions we could be using to help women and men, regardless of socio-economic bracket or geography.
While the 2.5 billion people suffering from poor vision with no access to correction treatment makes it the largest unaddressed disability in the world, in 80% of all cases this could be resolved with a 700-year-old invention - a simple pair of glasses.
By improving distribution systems and effective care delivery models, we could help diagnose and provide affordable glasses much more readily and rebalance women's access to vision correction in the world.
We are living in an age that is of radical and disruptive thinking, when advances in technology mean the previously unthinkable is well within our reach and I have seen tangible demonstrations of this in the world already.
Last year we ran a global competition, the Clearly Vision Prize, which was created to discover a breadth of inspirational talent and innovation that Clearly can help reach its potential. Examples of ventures with real opportunity to eradicate obstacles in access to healthcare include South African Vula, an app which connects health workers to specialists who can give expert advice almost instantly, and Indian Folding Phoropter, offering a 'build your own version' eye screening device in a affordable paper origami design.
Achieving universal access requires support and engagement from diverse sectors and the solutions are at hand if we can all unite to address this life changing gender discrepancy. While International Women's Day shines a spotlight on the key issues women across the world are facing, we cannot let these same issues fall off the radar the next day. This is a pressing problem that needs to be considered every day if we want to tackle these social divisions on a global scale.
Photography credited to Sarah Day Photography / Clearly