There is a gender gap present in almost every aspect of women's lives. Access to education, political representation, employment opportunities, wage disparity, and even physical safety are areas where women across the world are frequently at a disadvantage. What is less commonly known is the gender gap that exists when it comes to sight. At least 55 percent of the world’s blind are women and most live in low and middle-income countries. Women are also 1.3 times more likely to be blind or vision impaired than men, and most significantly, four out of five of them don’t need to be blind, as their eye conditions can be easily prevented or treated.
The high prevalence of cataract blindness in women is a result of a combination of biological and social factors. Evidence from epidemiological studies suggests that biological sex differences play a significant part in this excess of cataracts among women but the mechanisms behind this are not yet clear. Women tend to live longer than men making them more susceptible to age-related illnesses like macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, theories about estrogen withdrawal are being studied to further evaluate the disparity in cataract prevalence.
Social factors play an enormous role in the prevalence of blindness for women. As a group, women receive less than half of the medical services being provided in their communities. The reasons for this are varied. In many families, the health of women is simply not prioritized, particularly if a woman has a condition that is not life-threatening. For some women, it can be harder to travel for treatment because of family responsibilities. For others, a lack of education means they may not even be aware that there ware medical services available to them. Additionally, in some communities, there is a sense of shame surrounding any type of disability, including vision impairment. In Pakistan, for example, women are often afraid to be seen as a burden to their families, feeling ashamed about being blind. As a result, many will not seek medical services.
The second major example of vision inequity between women and men is trachoma which is still endemic in more than 50 countries. Over time, repeated infections result in the development of scar tissue on the inside of the eyelid. This may eventually lead to trichiasis from resultant entropion, eventually leading to a corneal abrasion, ulceration, perforation, and ultimately the loss of sight.
It is time to make vision equality a priority for women around the world. More than 20 million women in the world are blind, while 120 million women are visually impaired. We are advocating for our sisters, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and girlfriends.