A female garment worker from Bangladesh has her vision screened

Better Eye Care Could Boost Female Garment Workers’ Pay, Study Reveals

Unaddressed near vision impairment is leading to lower monthly salaries for female garment workers based in Bangladesh, a new Orbis study reveals.

The findings from the study highlight that women garment workers in the country, particularly those living in rural areas, are impacted by high rates of near vision impairment.

High rates of near vision impairment were associated with earning a lower monthly salary, even after adjusting for other factors, such as years on the job and daily working hours.

What’s more staggering is that more than 20% of women aged 30-35 years are already living with near vision impairment — the height of the working years for many women.

This data has recently been published in a special issue of the Asia Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology on the prevalence and impact of near- and far-sightedness in the Asia Pacific and globally.

Commenting on these important findings, Country Director for Orbis Bangladesh, Munir Ahmed, said: “Given that women constitute the majority of workers in the garment industry globally, the study offers evidence that increasing access to quality eye care can help increase earnings among female workers and has the potential to pull more women out of poverty. Most encouraging, our findings and proposed solutions are relevant across other industries with a high proportion of female workers as well.”

A female garment worker from Bangladesh is screened during the study in 2019

Garment Makers Need Healthy Vision

Bangladesh is home to the second-largest readymade garment industry in the world, after China. It accounts for over 80% of Bangladesh’s total export earnings and employs approximately 4 million workers, over half of whom are women.

Tasks involved in garment making, such as sewing and cutting, require the ability to see up close, meaning good near vision is a necessity for garment workers.

To gather the data, Orbis Bangladesh teamed up with Nari Uddug Kendra, a non-governmental national women’s development support organization, to screen and treat female garment workers for free at four factories, two urban and two rural, in Bangladesh in 2019.

The Cost of Near Vision Loss

The good news is that treatment for near vision loss is inexpensive. Most cases of near vision impairment can be treated simply with a pair of glasses – and could increase earnings by some US$70 per year; this difference is equivalent to six weeks of income above the World Bank’s poverty line.

The amount is enough to cover nearly a month of expenses for a child, per estimates from UNICEF that the annual cost to raise a child in developing countries is US$900.

Factories also stand to gain from workers’ increased productivity.

Garment factory workers in Bangladesh undergo vision screening

2019: An Orbis study shows high rates of near vision impairment among female garment workers in Bangladesh

Gender Disparity & Eye Health

Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by blindness and visual impairment, representing 55% of people with vision loss globally.

With near vision loss specifically, women often require correction at an earlier age than men.

Thanks to the insights provided by this study, we and the global eye health community can address the barriers women face and explore solutions such as offering workplace screenings and prescribing glasses as a strategy to combat the adverse economic impact of gender inequality and lift more women out of poverty in Bangladesh and beyond.

A huge thank you to Orbis Bangladesh, Nari Uddug Kendra and the teams who helped organize and publish this crucial eye health study.

The critical insights we get from our research inform our evidence-based approach to tackling global vision loss. If you are interested in funding Orbis research, please contact [email protected].

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