Malawi older woman

Women of all ages most affected by lack of gender transformative health and care

Health and care systems worldwide are unprepared for a world where, by 2030, the global population aged 60 or over is projected to reach 1.4 billion, with the majority being female.


  • By 2030, the global population aged 60 and above is projected to reach 1.4 billion, with the majority being women.
  • Women aged 50 and over represent 26% of the world’s female population.
  • Women live longer than men but spend more of their lives in ill health or with a disability.

Health and care systems worldwide are unprepared for a world where, by 2030, the global population aged 60 and over is projected to reach 1.4 billion, with the majority being female, according to HelpAge International in a briefing published ahead of Women Deliver conference to be held in Kigali Rwanda from 17-20 July 2023.

At least half of the world's population lacks access to essential health services. As one of the groups with the highest level of need for health and care services, older women are disproportionately affected by this gap. We need gender-transformative Universal Health Coverage that responds to the needs of women of all ages across the life course.

Camilla Williamson, Healthy Ageing Adviser at HelpAge International

An older world is a more female world

Although men outnumber women until the age of 50, women outnumber men at older ages due to their longer life expectancies. By 2030, 54 per cent of the world’s 1.4 billion older people will be female, and 60 per cent of people aged 80 and over.

Partly due to their longer life expectancy, women spend a greater proportion of their lives in ill health or with a disability. This means they face greater need for health and care services support. At the same time, as many as 70 per cent of the health and care workforce globally are women, and women and girls of all ages – including older women – are the main providers of informal care.

Discrimination based on age and gender

Gendered ageism and intersecting discrimination that older women experience when accessing services violates their right to health and care on an equal basis with others.

“I don’t like to visit the hospital because I don’t feel respected as a woman, and I don’t get to choose the sex of the physician. If you paid money [for the service] things would be different.” 69-year-old woman from Jordan.

“There are no support services available to older people in my community. Only family members provide assistance with daily activities. But this does not happen for all.” 71-year-old woman, from Nepal.

The challenges they face, rooted in both age and gender discrimination, undermine their ability to receive quality health and care services, and support. This discriminatory treatment, compounded by discrimination on the basis of health status, disability, socioeconomic status, exacerbates the disparities faced by older women. 

Increased medical costs puts older people’s health at risk 

Recent research “Things have just gotten worse” The impact of the global food, fuel and finance crisis on older people ,HelpAge carried out looking at the fuel, food and finance crisis found that older people are experiencing an increase in the cost of healthcare, ranging from 35 to 70 percent, which has meant that thousands are going without, with often fatal consequences.

The research conducted shows that higher fuel and transport costs prevent older people from accessing hospitals and clinics to receive treatment. Again, older women were shown to be disproportionately affected.

For many older people, it has become harder to access health services since the crisis hit. The increased cost of transport and fuel has prevented older people from accessing hospitals, clinics and other services across 10 researched countries.

An older woman in Sheikh Othman in Yemen said: “I don’t have any savings now. To the contrary, we have debts, and we don’t know how to cover them. Because of this crisis, I sold a bottle of gas to provide my husband with treatment.”

Physical barriers hinder essential health services

For many older women, geographical distance poses a significant hurdle. Living in remote areas or regions with limited healthcare infrastructure, they often have to travel long distances to reach hospitals, clinics, or specialized facilities. This not only adds to their physical strain but also increases the costs associated with transportation.

“[The health clinic] is too far for me to walk to. It takes a day to get there on foot and I don’t have enough money to go by bus.” 89-year-old woman, Mozambique.

When we visit a health facility, I have to queue, and younger people often do not offer their space for me to sit. I wait and wait in the queue, and sometimes the stress of standing for a long time leads to high blood pressure, causing me to collapse. There is no one available to help and lead me receive priority services.

68-year-old woman from Kenya.

HelpAge is calling upon for actors at all levels to:

  • Champion a rights-based approach towards Universal Health Coverage that respects, protects and fulfils the rights of women of all ages.
  • Invest in age, gender and disability-responsive systems that promote healthy ageing.
  • Address the barriers older people of all genders face to enjoying their right to healthcare.
  • Awaken intergenerational power to advance gender equality and health.