2016 AARP-UN Briefing Series Proceedings

AARP-UN Briefing Series highlights need to include older women in policies and programs to fully implement the Sustainable Development Goals

By: Jeffrey Gullo

Publish Date: March  24,  2016


NEW YORK – Over 150 government officials, policymakers, activists, and thought leaders gathered at United Nations (UN) headquarters to participate in the annual AARP-UN Briefing Series, “Empowering Women: The Forgotten Half-Billion.” The event, held March 15-16 during the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), called upon governments to include older women into policies and programs to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, develop greater data collection on older women, and build an evidence base on violence against older women.

The briefing, cosponsored by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Women for Peace Association, addressed issues of neglect, abuse, and violence against older women, as well as women’s empowerment and sustainable development.

Historically held during the Commission on Social Development, this year’s Briefing Series coincided with the CSW in an effort to highlight the exclusion of older women in sustainable development policy. “This is more than a personal tragedy,” said AARP President Jeannine English, opening the two-day event. “Societies lose a great asset when older women are not fully recognized, included, and empowered.”

Baroness Sandip Verma of the UK House of Lords delivered the first keynote address, noting that violence against women is systematic, widespread, and affects all ages. She underscored the UK’s commitment to significant action across government to prevent and respond to violence against women in the UK and overseas.

Verma noted her government’s recent Strategy to end violence against women and girls: 2016 to 2020 and the UK Department for International Development’s efforts to build the evidence base around violence prevention, but called for improved national data. She explained, “This must be disaggregated by sex, age, disability status and geographic location.”UNBSPanel1

A panel of experts, moderated by Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Gayle Lemmon, continued to discuss ways to address violence and abuse against older women.

In the United States, for example, the reauthorization of federal legislation provides an opportunity for grassroots activists, NGOs, and community-based organizations to address policy gaps, explained Rosie Hidalgo, deputy director for policy at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Similarly, Rosa Marlene Manjate, gender advisor to Mozambique’s minister of health, focused on the importance of civil society in reaching communities and bringing change to women’s lives.BWinston.jpg

The panel also included UN Women’s Aldijana Sisic, who serves as chief of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. She added that prevention of violence through education and conversation is fundamental to changing social norms and constructs.

“There are so many issues to tackle they are so variant and they touch us all… the existing human rights standards aren’t working.” Barbara Winston, board member of UN Women for Peace described in her closing remarks.  Mrs. Winston challenged the room to start a movement and to make a commitment to put a warning label on violence against women.

The following day focused on women’s empowerment and sustainable development. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee delivered the second keynote address, focusing on existing barriers to funding for sustainable development programs aimed at older women, ranging from a lack of subject matter expertise to the challenges of ageism and preconceived notions of aging.

Greenlee argued that, in addition to disaggregated data, storytelling can serve as an effective tool to overcome barriers to funding: “Sometimes it really is as simple as connecting with someone and their humanity to say what we are going to do for you, and your family, and everyone you love around the world, as they age.”

The subsequent panel, also moderated by Lemmon, began by addressing the false association of reproductive rights with sexual rights.

Greenlee.jpg“One of the issues is that reproduction and sexuality are two key elements in everyone’s life […] but those two elements are different,” explained María Antonieta Alcalde, a member of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development. “So, at the end, when we’re talking about sexual and reproductive health and rights, we’re talking about reproductive health. And if you are not in the age of reproducing, you’re out of the conversation.”

The conversation also focused on economic empowerment. “The much bigger problem is not actually older women being abused for the assets they have, it’s older women not having sufficient assets,” argued HelpAge International CEO Toby Porter, who called for greater access to credit, microenterprise, and social pension schemes for women.

FEMNET Chair Emma Kaliya cautioned that older women are not a homogenous group, and that disaggregation of data is necessary to understand who is truly in need in order to better distribute resources.

panel2.jpgAt the conclusion of the program, participants were asked to call upon governments to commit to, and invest in, collection, analysis, and publication of data on women beyond reproductive age; build an evidence base around the specific nature of violence, discrimination, neglect and abuse of women in later life; and have age-inclusive development and humanitarian planning, policies, and programs supporting older women’s health, and economic, social and political empowerment.