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International Women's Day: when does a woman's age become old?

07 Mar 2017

María conducts a workshop on the rights of older people in Bogotá, Colomba (c) Angela Sanabria/HelpAge International

One 8 March a couple of years ago, on International Women's Day, my granddaughter Maria Fernanda gave me a flower. She caressed my head and said: "granny, today is the day for us, but since I am young and you an old lady, can you tell me when you started to get old?"

It was not the first time she asked me that. And then I remembered what St Augustine said when somebody asked him: "when does old age begin?". He answered: "when you do not ask me, I know. When you ask me, I do not know".

But that does not answer the question, so I took the words of Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago. He said: "I'm the age I feel... I have the experience of years lived... I am the age in which things are observed more calmly, but the interest continues to grow...". I found it very philosophical, and when I read it to my granddaughter, she looked at me quietly.

"Well," I said, "my date of birth does not define my age. There may be young people of 80 years full of ideas, enthusiasm and good health, and there may be old people in their thirties who are troubled, sad, and worried about their ailments."

"Yes grandma, but when did you start to get old?"

"Well... it depends on whose eyes are looking at me," I said. "A little boy of seven years believes those who are 18 are old. A young girl of 18, like you, thinks that people at 30 years are old. At 30, that at 50, and so on..."

Ageing is lived in different ways. It is not only age, and old age differs from person to person. It depends on whether we are lonely, on the affection we receive, on how we have spent our lives, on the work that has touched us, on our health, our temperament, and even the way we look.

I felt at rest with my explanation, but in truth I had not answered her question. I feared she might be thinking her own grandmother could not answer her. I asked her for time: "My girl, let me think until tomorrow to answer the question, yes?"

"Grandmother, it is not necessary," she said," I can teach you now". In surprise, I said: "so you know, when do we start to grow old?"

"It is simple granny. We begin to grow old when we are born."

Today, on International Women's Day, I reflect on what it means to be a woman and also an older woman. For me, it means everything. A certain charm of living, motherhood, knowing sweetness, being a good daughter and sister, knowing that people love me.

Although we are different from men in many ways because of the way in which society has defined our roles, we can have the same values, the same dignity, and the same love for others. We can do the same work, have the same responsibilities. We are equal, and we must ensure the gap of inequality does not widen, but narrows to the point where it is imperceptible.

As I have aged, I have come to know life better. I understand youth as physical beauty, dreams of the future, and the wonder of giving life. Being an older woman is about experience, knowing how to choose better, to love life more because it can end at any moment.

My entire life has been a constant struggle against ignorance and exclusion. I have researched and promoted for many years the knowledge, defense and the demand for human rights. 

Celebrating International Women's Day is an opportunity to tell women to continue to fight for their own dignity and autonomy as the basis of all human rights. So let's do it, no matter our age.

Your comments

Samantha Smith

I love this. Thank you for sharing ❤️

Christine Dove

Hard to think age discrimination is increasing in a global aging population. Maria is a shining example to the converted and the millions more who need to value the wealth of expertise older women bring to all corners of the world.

Ashton Applewhite

A lovely piece and I support you! Just one comment: people of 80 are not young and people in their 20s are not old—to think otherwise is denial. As you point out, we can feel healthy, energetic and enthusiastic in late life and troubled, sad, and worried in our early years. These states of mind have nothing to do with age.

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Author profile


Maria Tila Uribe
Country: Colombia
Job title: Campaigner

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.