Life in Focus: 
Zaina

Good vision changes lives. Being able to see is a vital gateway to education, work and building a better future. These opportunities can have a dramatic, lasting impact on the individual, their family and even the generations that follow.

The second episode in our Life in Focus series tells Zaina’s story.

Zaina

Home: Kigali, Rwanda
Work: Senior coffee sorter at Rwanda Trading Company
Family Status: Widow with 4 children

Focus:

Gender inequality in vision

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Globally, women and girls make up two thirds of the people who are visually impaired.

There are many reasons for this. But when we consider the vital role of sight as an enabler of learning, work and personal growth, it’s clear that a disparity in vision correction will also contribute to other inequalities between men and women. Good vision should not depend on your gender: 20/20 should be 50/50. For someone like Zaina – a widow, a worker and a mother – the importance of being able to see clearly cannot be underestimated.

Zaina's Story

Zaina is 65. She is one of the most senior coffee sorters at the Rwanda Trading Company in Kigali. She’s worked there for somewhere around 20 years – if you ask her how long, Zaina will laugh and tell you that she can’t remember exactly!

Zaina used to cultivate crops in the fields, but lost her job when the local area became urbanised. As a widow with 4 children, she needed to find work. One day, she was walking past the Rwanda Trading Company and decided to ask if they had a job for her – fortunately, they did.

Zaina feels lucky to have her job as a coffee sorter – she thinks it’s the best match for someone of her age and skills.

“Look at me. I am old, and this is the best job for me, because it doesn’t require a lot of energy.”

Zaina sorts the beans by hand and removes the ones that are broken, discoloured or too small. The Rwanda Trading Company also has machines that do this job, but sorting by hand is more accurate so Zaina always works on the most profitable batches of coffee.

Her work allows Zaina to look after herself and support her children. She has an adult son who still lives with her due to mental illness. But her work is more than just a job – it gives her a sense of purpose, pride, and place.

A few years ago, Zaina realised that she could not see the beans clearly. Her vision was deteriorating. She found that she could not sort the beans quickly enough. She started making mistakes and would then have to redo her work. If she continued performing poorly, she would not have been able to keep her job as a sorter.

One day, while she was busy sorting the coffee, Zaina was called by her boss. A team had come to Rwanda Trading Company to give vision screenings to the workers, and she would have the chance to get her eyes checked. After being assessed, Zaina was told that she qualified for glasses and received them just a week later.

Zaina loves her new glasses.

“They help me do my work, and now I can sort well and meet my quota. I feel very, very happy, because by doing this job, I can earn money to help my family, to buy beans to eat… I am proud with all my body.”

When asked to describe the impact that getting glasses has made to her life and her ability to provide care for her disabled child, Zaina’s voice becomes shaky.

“May God bless you for how you have blessed me…” she says, speaking of the people who helped her that day.

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Zaina’s story was made possible by the brilliant work of Vision for a Nation. Their award-winning programme has ensured that every single person in Rwanda has access to local, affordable eye care. Find out more 

Good vision should not be dependent on gender: 20/20 should be 50/50

Two thirds of people with suffering from visual impairment are female. This is not because of any biological difference between men and women – it is social structures and behaviours that leave women and girls more vulnerable to these problems.

In part, this is because women face greater exposure to key risk factors. For example, spending more time in close proximity to children – often the case for women around the world – increases the chances of contracting an eye infection. However, it also the case that women are less likely to get the treatment they need.

The World Health Organisation notes that women have less access to eye treatment and health care than men, due to a lack of transportation to care providers and a lack of financial resources to pay for their services. A woman who develops cataracts, for instance, is more likely remain blind than a man in the same situation. In low and middle income countries, a man is almost twice as likely to benefit from the straightforward, sight-restoring surgery.

The United Nations aims for no one to be left behind in the progress brought about through the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal #3 (Good Health) aims to ‘promote wellbeing and ensure healthy lives for all, at all ages’ – while considerable progress has been made, a clear disparity still exists when it comes to vision. To build truly fair and equal societies, we have to close this gap.

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