International Women's Day: Older women ignored in UN process


By Sarah Marzouk

International Women's Day, celebrated annually on 8 March, is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater gender equality. Older women's issue are still being ignored despite growing evidence of the discrimination they face. Older women's issue are still being ignored despite growing evidence of the discrimination they face. (c) Roopa Gogineni/HelpAge International

Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March.

The main focus of this year’s CSW is to review the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 20 years after its adoption. The CSW will also will also address opportunities for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women in the post-2015 development agenda.

Older women still a low priority

HelpAge will be present at the CSW to call for the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action recommendations on action on older women’s income security, health, property rights, access to non-discriminatory employment and on collecting data disaggregated by age and sex to be put into practice.

20 years on, as part of the Beijing+20 review, we looked at 131 national implementation reports to see how governments are implementing these recommendations.

We found that despite a growing body of evidence on discrimination affecting women in older age and the adoption of a new CEDAW General Recommendation on the rights of older women in 2010, older women and population ageing are a low priority for the vast majority of countries.

Lifetime of discrimination ignored

For example, only 21 reports (16%) specifically mentioned older women or ageing in their review of achievements and challenges.

The only areas where older women have received any significant attention in the reviews were in relation to their poverty and barriers to employment. Older women’s sexual and reproductive health was almost completely ignored and there was no recognition of, or data on, the violence they face in the different settings where they live.

Bridget Sleap, HelpAge’s Senior Rights Policy Adviser said:

“What these 20-year review report indicate is that this stage in women’s lives is still considered less important, less equal, less deserving of respect, less part of mainstream society, and that gender-based discrimination in older age is less harmful or debilitating.

“The accumulation of gender-based discrimination over a lifetime combined with the additional discrimination based on older age can have a devastating effect on women’s lives unless it is explicitly addressed.”

Calling for older women's issues to be addressed

At the CSW, we are calling for the gaps in the Beijing Platform for Action recommendations to be addressed in relation to, among others:

  • older women’s enjoyment of human rights on an equal basis with others
  • tackling multiple discrimination against women in older age, particularly on the grounds of age and marital status
  • preventing and providing redress for violence against women in their older age
  • changing social norms that promote negative and degrading images of older women in the media
  • addressing the impact of armed conflict and other situations of risk on older women
  • ensuring older women’s non-discriminatory access to services, including lifelong education and training, transport and financial services
  • ensuring older women’s participation in decision-making processes

What you can do:

  • Support older women everywhere by tweeting: I’m calling for older women to be included in the #post2015 process #olderwomencount #IWD2015
  • Go to our Older women count page for more on CSW events on older women. 
  • Check out the CSW website for more information.

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