Beijing: 15 years older but any wiser?


On International Women's Day, HelpAge asks:

Did the Beijing Platform for Action make a difference for older women around the world? Sato Ndila survived a vicious attack after being accused of witchcraft seven years ago. Help Age and MAPERECE have helped her to build a new home and settle securely into her new community. Sato Ndila survived a vicious attack after being accused of witchcraft seven years ago. Help Age and MAPERECE have helped her to build a new home and settle securely into her new community. Photo: HelpAge International

In 1995 the Beijing Platform for Action recognised age discrimination as one of the barriers to women's empowerment and advancement globally.

15 years on, and 100 years after the idea of an International Women's Day was first hatched, questions remain.

To what extent have governments and others implemented these actions? 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.

They are less likely to be married, more likely to live alone and less likely to earn an income through work in the formal or informal sector.

Bridget Sleap, HelpAge's Rights Adviser says:

"Certainly, references to older women and recommended actions could have been stronger in the Beijing Platform for Action. But they are there, which is the important thing.

"They are there in relation to poverty, health, violence against older women, obstacles they face entering the labour market, discrimination at work and as a civilian group particularly affected by armed conflict. Population ageing is recognised, as is the need for data disaggregated by age and sex."

Inconsistent and patchy

So, has the Beijing Platform for Action made any difference to older women's lives in the past 15 years?

"HelpAge has been analysing 121 government responses to UN questionnaires for the Bejing+ 15 year review, to see how governments were implementing the actions targeted at older women. Sadly, the results show that attention to older women has been inconsistent and patchy at best.

"For example, older women remain invisible in responses to violence against women - only four countries mention violence against older women. A further seven include information on elder abuse more broadly."

Missing numbers

Most striking is the lack of data disaggregated by age and sex. Only two countries recognised that this was an issue and just one made a commitment to collect it.

Bridget Sleap says: "Lack of data is a constant frustration. Without it, how can you design the right programmes or policies? How can you identify the scale or depth of a problem and advocate for change? How can you know if you are allocating enough or too many resources to any particular issue?"

But perhaps most disturbingly, at a time when populations have already aged considerably in some countries and are ageing rapidly in others, only six responses recognised ageing and its impact on women as a future priority.

This recognition is absolutely imperative if policies, including those on health, employment, social security, prevention of violence and climate change are to be adapted so that they realise the rights of everyone, including older women.

Download "Older women in Beijing: 15 years on"

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