In Conversation with The Leading Women of Optometry
On the occasion of International Women's Day, we connected with the young women staff from our Vision Centres across the country to learn about their journeys into eye health.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 on 08 March, this is a critical juncture and an important day for us to start thinking about investing in in people; especially in women and girls. Keeping women and girls at the centre of all our work can not only lead to the development of their respective families; but also contribute towards the country’s progress. As per The Clinton Global Initiative, when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. In the same vein, there was a blog post by Mission for Vision (MFV) Staff – Sweta Patel, where she elucidated on the benefits of including women in the eye-care workforce that can eventually fuel the country's economic growth.

Recently, some of our team members at MFV decided to connect with the young women staff from our Vision Centres across the country to learn about their journeys into eye health. MFV runs its flagship programme called the Mission Jyot, that delivers primary eye care to the remotest locations via its Vision Centres. Through these Vision Centres, our aim is to ensure timely intervention for these marginalised communities and simultaneously eradicate all forms of avoidable blindness.

Thanks to the advent of technology, we connected over a video conference with these young women from diverse backgrounds and hailing from the most remote locations of India. Here are some highlights from our conversation with them.

The Mighty Purpose

As we opened up the conversation, we checked with these young women on their drive and inspiration to join the eye-health sector. While some admitted that they were already into the eye health space with their previous employments in optical set-ups or in eye hospitals; there were some of them who had aspirations of becoming a part of the police force, army or a doctor; so that they can serve the nation in a meaningful manner. In unison, they agreed that it is the purpose of serving the needy communities is what brought them into eye care and their job at the Vision Centre allows them to do just that.

Deep-rooted Gender Inequality

India has had a history of gender discrimination for generations and this impacts the different spheres of life for many women and girls. Right from education to employment opportunities, women are often disadvantaged and are not provided equal rights. From a global perspective, female participation in the labour force is around two-thirds that of men. However, India is lagging behind on this standpoint and only 20% of the workforce constituted women. The onset of the pandemic has made it even worse and has made women even more vulnerable. The covid-related job loss rate worldwide for women is about 1.8 times higher than that of men, at 5.7% versus 3.1%.

We were surprised to learn that these gender disparities exist even in eye care. Some of the optometrists mentioned of instances where patients refused to undergo screening when they learned that it was a lady eye health professional on the other side of the door. This discriminative approach exists in rural regions as well semi-urban set-ups. To combat this situation, the young women patiently counsel these community members and explain to them that they are equally capable to resolve their eye health issues. The optometrists shared that it takes some time and considerable amount of patience to change the behavioral patterns of the community. Once the patients understand that the Vision Centre staff are working towards the betterment of the community, they co-operate and some even become advocates of their work.

Mission for Vision’s Gender Equity Approach

Traditionally, MFV has undertaken an inclusive and gender-balanced approach by way of special focus on women through its various programmes. Its Mission Saksham programme is a best example of gender equity, where it builds the Allied Ophthalmic Personnel cadre in India and enables training courses to rural youth, especially women from socio-economically challenged communities. Similarly, our focus is to hire and train more women towards our Mission Jyot (Vision Centre) programme.

Combatting COVID-19 & Delivering Eye Care

The pandemic certainly disrupted a lot of sectors and their functioning. Eye care was no different and our eye health personnel have had to reshape and restructure in order to protect themselves and the communities against this highly transmissible virus. During the lockdown period, MFV consulted eye health experts and in line with government and local guidelines developed Adaptation Guidelines for all its eye care programmes. All our Vision Centre staff underwent rigorous training and during our discussion, all the young women agreed and shared the benefits of receiving this thorough training. This helped them to generate greater awareness among communities and it also built the trust when the Vision Centres resumed operations after being temporarily closed from April to May 2020. Initially there was a lot of apprehension from the optometrists’ parents and family members for them to resume work during the pandemic, but these women assured them of the safety precautions taken at the Vision Centres by MFV and the partner hospitals involved. When the lockdown restrictions were eased out, they were at the forefront serving the community and eradicating needless blindness among these socio-economically challenged individuals. 

Apart from being an eye health professional, these women also don diverse roles across varied domains. Their incredible resolve to keep moving forward is inspirational and we salute the commitment and dedication of these young women who selflessly contribute to the society and provide inspiration to all of us. 


About the Author:Shrikant Ayyangar is the communications manager at Mission for Vision, where he leads the organisation’s communications efforts and plays a key role in website management, social media outreach, content curation and branding activities.