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Operation Eyesight Universal’s Entry to The Gender Equality Awards 2017

Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women

Tell us what your company is doing to advance the selected principle above:
Operation Eyesight Universal’s mission is to eliminate avoidable blindness in developing countries on a sustainable basis. Through our innovative Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Program (HBCEHP) model, we’ve declared over 200 villages in India as avoidable blindness-free. None of this would be possible without our female community health workers (CHWs).

Working with our partner hospitals, we train women who live and work in the service areas of our partners to become CHWs. They’re trained to identify common eye health issues, conduct door-to-door surveys and refer patients for appropriate treatment. CHWs visit every household that has a blind or visually impaired person (multiple times if necessary) to counsel patients and their families and ensure all patients receive access to the treatment needed to protect or restore their sight.

Operation Eyesight-trained, female CHWs are the backbone of our HBCEHP. Not only do they ensure their communities receive access to quality eye care, but they also educate their neighbours on eye health and general health. They communicate knowledgably about a range of issues from family planning and child health to nutrition and sanitation. Much of this they learn during the training phase, but they’re also able to pass on useful lessons and practices from their own lives and help their fellow neighbours to follow suit. All of this has contributed to their effectiveness in helping their communities adopt good eye health-seeking behaviour. (Sarashwati’s story: http://www.operationeyesight.com/community-health-worker-strives-help-every-patient-part-1-2/)

The success of our HBCEHP in India has encouraged Operation Eyesight to expand our program and recruit women for our other project locations. For example, in Zambia, 95 percent of our community health workers are women, and most of them are volunteers.

In addition to training women to become CHWs, we’re also providing women with opportunities to become vision technicians (Nurbhanu’s story: http://www.operationeyesight.com/health-worker-brings-light-to-her-community/, ophthalmic nurses (Carolyn’s story: http://www.operationeyesight.com/for-health-workers-training-is-a-dream-come-true/), Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) case finders (Evelyne’s story: http://www.operationeyesight.com/going-great-distances-find-risk-blindness/) and community leaders in sanitation (Sarah’s story: http://www.operationeyesight.com/going-great-distances-find-risk-blindness/). Through our training and capacity-building programs, we’re providing women in general with a stronger voice in the health care system – in countries where this is considered extremely progressive!

Tell us why your company is advancing the selected principle above:

We know that when we empower women, they become powerful agents of change. That’s why we’re empowering women to find solutions to their eye care needs and develop eye health programs that will benefit their entire community.

Because our female community health workers (CHWs) are members of the communities in which they work, they’re able to visit every home in their communities; capitalize on their personal relationships with their fellow community members; tailor their work to meet the specific needs of their communities; break down barriers and shift community perceptions about eye health; and increase access and provide eye care for those who cannot afford to pay. Equipped with the right knowledge and skills, CHWs are able to reach each individual in their community and ensure that all those with eye health issues receive the treatment they need. Word spreads in the communities about the CHWs’ good work and soon villagers begin looking for them and actively seeking eye care.

CHWs ensure that all patients in their communities – both female and male alike – are helped and that their communities become avoidable blindness-free. When a CHW helps eliminate the threat of blindness for a woman in her community, she improves that woman’s ability to become an active participant in the community and to contribute to her family’s socioeconomic stability. Often times when a mother is blind or visually impaired, her eldest daughter has to stay home to care for the family – but when the mother’s sight is restored, her daughter can return to school and receive an education. Ultimately, the more women our CHWs help, the more women – and girls – who can actively participate in society, and the stronger their collective voice becomes.

In summary, we’re working to provide quality eye care to all, regardless of age, gender or ability to pay. All of our programs in South Asia and Africa are designed to involve both women and men, as both program implementers and program beneficiaries. We’re promoting gender equality in all phases of our work – For All The World To See!

Women power drives change: http://blog.operationeyesight.com/2012/02/women-power-drives-change-part-1-of-2/

2015 Annual Report: http://www.operationeyesight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Operation-Eyesight-2015-Report-to-Donors.pdf