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Blind Women Around The World

Recent studies indicate that women now represent close to two thirds of all blind persons in the world. According to statistics published by the World Health Organization in 2004, there are about 37 million blind persons and a further 124 million persons with low vision around the world, 80 percent of whom come from developing countries. Moreover, at least 75 percent of blindness and low vision is either preventable or avoidable, the leading cause worldwide being cataracts.

The proportion of women affected by blindness is astounding, but understandable when one considers factors that contribute to their increased vulnerability. In developing countries, for instance, women are usually the primary caregivers and are often exposed to water-borne infections introduced by other family members. Women, furthermore, generally have less access to information about available treatments than do men. Even in industrialized countries such as Canada and the United States, women are affected in larger numbers since they typically live longer than men and many types of vision loss are related to the aging process.

For blind women and girls living in developing countries, the situation is truly appalling, as they have less access than males to rehabilitation and educational programming, as well as to basic health care. Only about five percent of blind children, for example, get to go to school in these countries, but the number is half that for blind girls. Blind females may also be excluded from their families as they are perceived to have no way to contribute to the family's well-being, and many are forced to earn a living "on the street". A good number, furthermore, are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by family members, service providers and members of the general public.

Because of the desperate situation faced by blind women in developing countries, the World Blind Union has made it a priority over the last decade and a half to improve their circumstances. Through such means as encouraging the development of local women's committees, providing leadership seminars in all developing regions, and ensuring that women play a stronger role in the leadership of organizations of and for the blind, more women are being developed as leaders and are helping to influence program improvements.

An encouraging outcome is that many organizations insist on the involvement of equal numbers of women in their development programs, guaranteeing women the opportunity to benefit. A number of women are emerging as leaders in Africa and the Caribbean, and this evolution will undoubtedly help to influence improvements to the situation faced by blind women around the world.

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