Seva Canada Napalese Woman with eye patch

Client Spotlight: Seva Canada’s Quest to Improve Gender Equity in the Treatment of Blindness

At the beginning of 2018, the iATS team pledged to better support our clients in their missions, which is why we started the iATS Innovator Award. We were blown away by the stories we heard, so we want to share them! Throughout the rest of the year, we will be highlighting the inspiring work of our Innovator Award applicants and winners. To kick it off, we’re featuring Seva Canada and the innovative fundraising approach that lead to their selection as the inaugural winner of the iATS Innovator Award. 


Seva Canada’s Equal Right to Sight Initiative 

For over 36 years, Seva Canada has worked to restore sight and prevent blindness in developing countries. One of Seva’s campaigns that particularly resonated with the iATS team was their Equal Right to Sight initiative that launched on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018. Seva told us that the world’s blind are predicted to increase from today’s 36 million to 115 million by 2050 if access to treatment is not improved and increased through better funding. The majority of the 115 million will be women and girls.

Seva Canada Who Is Blind?


Seva’s campaign aims to eliminate the current disparity in eye care where women and girls make up the majority of the world’s blind. This is compounded by the fact that girls are too young to advocate for themselves and are only half as likely as boys to receive care. The campaign advocates for an equal right to sight for women and girls. We caught up with Penny Lyons, Seva Canada's Executive Director, to learn more about their initiatives and the Equal Right to Sight campaign.

Seva Canada's Penny Lyons in Nepal

Penny Lyons of Seva Canada, in the field in Bajura, Nepal. Seva inaugurated a Community Eye Centre in Bajura, one of the most impoverished areas in the world, and the final district in Nepal to receive eye care.   


iATS: Why is gender equality important in the treatment of preventable blindness?

Penny Lyons: The majority of the world’s 36 million blind people are women and girls living in low-income countries because of the socioeconomic and cultural barriers they face accessing care. These numbers will likely triple by 2050.

Men and women go blind at nearly the same rate. But in low-income countries, a large majority of those who receive treatment are men. The disparity is especially drastic among children, where girls make up two-thirds of those living with treatable blindness but are half as likely as boys to receive care.

Gender equity in the treatment of preventable blindness is important to Seva Canada because women and girls bear a far greater burden of blindness due to the lack of access to care; because seeking gender equity is an ethical imperative; and because treatment of conditions that affect women and girls is particularly important to the social and economic development of entire communities.

iATS: Why are women and girls less likely to receive eye care?

PL: Women and girls in low-income countries are less likely to receive care due to the socioeconomic and cultural barriers they face. The vast majority of those women and girls live in remote, rural areas and are struggling to provide for themselves and their families. They are not able to travel freely, and in most cases will stay blind until eye care comes to their doorstep. Girls also face an additional barrier of being a child, too young to advocate for themselves, while women and girls both face the following realities:

  • Lack of financial decision-making capacity
  • Inability to travel for health care facilities 
  • Differences in the perceived value of female individual
  • Lack of awareness of information and resources 
  • Fear of a poor outcome

iATS: How is Seva Canada helping to change this?

PL: Seva Canada has been a global advocate for gender equity in eye care for almost two decades. We supported the first research in 1999 that discovered that women made up 66% of the world’s blind.

Seva was the first to identify this inequality, the first to publish a study proving the inequity in all blinding conditions in every region of the world and the first to study and implement strategies to overcome the inequities.

All Seva-supported programs work towards achieving gender equity by focusing on community-based strategies that provide women and girls with the eye care they need and deserve. Simple bridging strategies that connect women and girls with eye care are often the most effective and can include: training outreach workers to go door to door to find women and girls in need of care, providing counseling to families, offering free transportation, and bringing eye care to the villages through permanent Community Eye Centres.

There is some good news. Globally, due to strategies like the ones that Seva and its partners have implemented, the number of women who are blind has decreased by 10%, according to the latest statistics. Unfortunately, that statistical improvement does not extend to girls who make up two out of three children living with blindness, but are still only half as likely as boys to receive care.

Seva Canada is now advocating for girls as it did for women.

Seva will continue to publish, support, document and disseminate knowledge and ongoing strategies to achieve gender equity. We will continue to advocate for women and girls – raising awareness in Canada and in the global eye care community. Seva will also help eye care providers understand the need, importance and enduring value of giving girls the power of sight and an enriched future for themselves, their families and their entire community.

iATS: What are the goals of the Equal Right to Sight Campaign?

PL: Seva Canada’s Equal Right to Sight multimedia campaign aims to increase awareness of the gender inequity in the treatment of blindness and encourage Canadians to get involved by sharing the information, fundraising and/or making a donation. The campaign consists of an animated video, interactive website, a gender and blindness booklet and print and online advertising.

80% of blindness is preventable or treatable, with cataracts being the leading cause of avoidable blindness. A 15-minute cataract surgery, which can cost as little as $50, has rescued many from blindness.

Funds from the campaign will also be used to produce original research on strategies to overcome inequity and to implement those proven strategies in all of our programs.

At Seva Canada, we believe that women and girls are as deserving of sight as men and boys. We know that with the help of Canadians, we can do more today to create a better tomorrow for entire communities.

Encouraging growth and innovation in the nonprofit community

As the only payment processor for nonprofit organizations, iATS is proud to assist in funding the missions of over 11,000 clients while establishing lasting partnerships. However, with iATS, there’s more to just payments than just processing. The iATS Innovator Award enables collaboration between the iATS and Seva teams to ensure the success of Seva’s mission, and particularly the Equal Right to Sight campaign. We look forward to leveraging our 20 years of payment solutions expertise and nonprofit industry knowledge to give back to the nonprofit sector and support those who direct positive change in the world.   

Seva Canada ( is a charitable organization that restores sight and prevents blindness in developing countries. Since 1982, Seva has given over 4 million people the power of sight through life-changing surgeries and provided eye care services including glasses and medicine to millions more.

Seva works with local partners to create sustainable eye care programs that achieve long-term change, are culturally sensitive and reach those most in need – women, children and people living in extreme poverty and isolation. 

Images and Equal Right to Sight video provided by Seva Canada. 


Back to News