African Union must strive to protect the rights of older women


Older woman in Kenya who has been victim of age discrimination (c) Roopa Gogineni/HelpAge International

(c) Roopa Gogineni/HelpAge International

Older woman in Kenya who has been victim of age discrimination

By Ben Small

With the annual African Union (AU) summit just beginning in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, we are calling on the continent’s leaders to challenge discrimination against older women and strive to protect this vulnerable group’s rights.

This year has been designated the Africa Year of Human Rights by the AU. Within this there is a particular focus on women, which Dr Prafulla Mishra has called a "huge step forward for gender equality" in the region.

"But progress can only be made if human rights are protected at every stage of every woman’s life," the East, West and Central Africa (EWCA) Regional Director at HelpAge International added.

"The discrimination that older women are subjected to, based on their older age and their gender, must be recognised and addressed."

Back in 2003, the AU acknowledged in the Maputo Protocol that older women in Africa face particular challenges in claiming their human rights. Notably, they are subjected to violence and abuse and denied access to healthcare and a decent standard of living.

Thirteen years later, this issue remains as important as ever. Older women still endure discrimination both for their age and their gender.

How older women in Africa are refused their human rights

In Mozambique, a survey we conducted in 2012 found half of women who responded had experienced emotional abuse since the age of 50, while 38% said they had been subjected to financial abuse and 5% to sexual abuse.

Older women in Tanzania, meanwhile, are frequently accused of practising witchcraft by their communities. They are rejected and threatened by those around them, and hundreds of  women suspected of witchcraft are murdered every year. These superstitious killings are a shocking example of the violation of women’s rights.

Much of the abuse endured by African women is hidden from view – data on violence rarely includes women aged over 49, while the victims themselves are not forthcoming about reporting or talking about their experiences.

"We feel isolated and alienated as if we are animals," said an older woman from Uganda, responding to the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People’s In Our Own Words consultation on how older people are discriminated against because of their age.

Older woman in Tanzania who is not allowed by law to own the land she inherited (c) Jeff Williams/ HelpAge International

(c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

Wande's is not allowed by law to own the land she inherited from her parents and instead it belonged the husband who divorced her

Leaving no one behind in Africa

Progress is being made. The African Union is set to sign a human rights protocol on the rights of older people in Africa at this month’s summit. While it focuses on all older people, there is a specific article that pledges to guarantee older women’s rights to freedom from violence, and rights to land, property and inheritance.

This is a step forward and a commitment to delivering on the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s repeated call to “leave no one behind” when delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

"The time has come to end this discrimination and denial of older women’s human rights," said Jamillah Mwanjisi, EWCA Regional Head of Policy and Advocacy at HelpAge.

With the number of older women in Africa set to grow by 40 million to 111 million by 2030, there is little time to wait.

Please make a donation to HelpAge International to protect older women's rights in Africa and around the world.

Find out more by exploring our work in Africa and on rights.

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