Direct Link to 12-Page 2010 Document
STRENGTHENING OLDER PEOPLE'S RIGHTS - TOWARDS A UN CONVENTION
Older Women &
Older women in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
15 years ago, the Beijing Declaration recognised age discrimination as one of the factors contributing to the barriers to women’s empowerment and advancement. Older women were specifically mentioned in the Beijing Platform for Action with regard to their poverty, health, violence against them, obstacles they face in entering the labour market, discrimination at work and as a civilian group particularly affected by armed conflict. Demographic ageing in developed and developing countries and the need for age-disaggregated data were emphasised. Recommendations for government action were made in each of these areas but there were also gaps, including the complete omission of widows and widowhood.
The question remains 15 years later. To what extent have governments and others implemented these actions and to what extent are older women and population ageing priorities for future action?
Older women in the century of ageing
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, older women continue to live longer than men, are less likely to be married, more likely to live alone and less likely to have access to an income through work in the formal or informal sector.
Life expectancy at 60 years 2005 – 2010
% living alone at 60 years and over
% in labour force 60 years and over
Source: UNDESA, Population Ageing and Development 2009, http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/ageing/ageing2009chart.pdf
Some issues affecting older women that were recognised
Economic migration is currently a key issue, yet the impact it has on older women who are often left to bring up young grandchildren without anticipated remittances, is rarely recognised. 10 years into the Millennium Development Goals, older women remain invisible in programmes, targets and indicators designed to achieve them, despite the key role they play in their own and their families’ development. Data disaggregated by age and sex is extremely limited, even in some of the key areas affecting women such as violence and HIV infection rates, where most available data stops at age 49.
However, there have been positive developments too. The 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) has helped raise ageing and its gender implications at the national and international level. Older women’s rights have been highlighted with the decision by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to develop a general recommendation on the rights of older women.
As we look ahead, there are two major opportunities to ensure the empowerment and advancement of older women are better protected and their contributions supported and recognised:
Older women in the
It is against this backdrop that the responses to a questionnaire sent out by the Division for the Advancement of Women are so disappointing. A review of 121 national responses to the questionnaire showed patchy and inconsistent recognition of, and attention to, older women.
Older women and poverty
Attention to older women was greatest in descriptions
of measures to reduce women’s poverty with 30 of the countries including
Older women and health
There was mention of the impact on women of caring for
older people in a handful of responses but older women’s own health was
mentioned in only 19 of the responses reviewed.
A second questionnaire for African countries developed by the Economic
Older women and violence
A similar picture emerges on violence against older
women. Older women remain invisible in responses to violence against women with
only four countries mentioning violence against older women. A further seven
Older women and employment
Eleven of the 121 responses reviewed included measures to encourage and support employment of older women. This is disappointing when more and more older women are either having to or choosing to continue working into old age to support themselves and their families.
Data disaggregated by age and sex
What is particularly noticeable is the lack of data disaggregated by age and sex, despite this being a specific recommendation in the Beijing Platform for Action. Only two countries reviewed recognised the lack of such data as a problem and one made a commitment to collect it.
Looking ahead: the next 15 years
A questionnaire of this nature cannot cover every
government action aimed at empowering and advancing women. What it does tell
us, however, is that older women are a low priority for most countries and that
governments have a long way to go to meet their commitments under
Such recognition is imperative if policies, including those on health, employment, social security and climate change, and the resources allocated to implement them, are to be adapted to meet the needs of everyone, including older women.
 WHO, Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda, 2009
 Questionnaire available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing15/questionnaires/questionnaire%20english.pdf
 Responses reviewed 6-12 January 2010, available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing15/national-level.html#res