2019 AARP UN Briefing Luncheon: Event Proceedings

2019 AARP UN Briefing Series: Video Highlights

On the first day marking the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, AARP hosted its 12th annual Briefing Series, “Why It Matters: Social Protection for Older Women.” Watch video highlights from this event which focused on the global state of social protections for older women and spearheaded a general discussion on how governments and other stakeholders can do more in this area.

Executive Summary


March 11, 2019

UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK—On the first day marking the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, AARP hosted its 12th annual Briefing Series, “Why It Matters: Social Protection for Older Women.” This event highlighted the global state of social protections for older women and spearheaded a general discussion on how governments and other stakeholders can do more in this area.

2019 AARP UN Briefing Series SpeakersThe event engaged participants in discussions to collectively explore and enhance all possibilities for older women worldwide, with the quest to leave no one behind—the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. AARP organized the event in collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). It attracted over 150 government officials, policy makers, activists, and thought leaders who actively engaged with panelists during the interactive luncheon.

Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex, a media platform for the development community, opened the program. Quoting from Ernest Hemingway’s book The Sun Also Rises, Kumar cautioned that the emergence of a global demographic shift brought an increasing burden of new diseases, including noncommunicable diseases that particularly impact older generations. For this nexus, he called to preserve humanitarian principles and the rights of older people, which can be championed by opportunities and conversations like the Briefing Series luncheon. 

Prior to her welcoming remarks, AARP’s Vice President for International Affairs Aimee Carter shared a moment of silence honoring UN colleagues and others lost in the weekend’s Ethiopia Airlines crash. “Sixty years ago, AARP was founded by an older woman, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus . . . today, AARP . . . brings a strong advocacy tradition to the global level on behalf of older persons everywhere,” she explained. Carter highlighted the importance of convening world-renowned experts and thought leaders to promote important issues such as global participation and spur discourse regarding global solutions. Completing her comments, she reiterated the event’s hashtag “#thetimeisnow” to echo the need for immediate action toward global social protection for older women.

Debra Whitman, AARP chief public policy officer, gave the opening remarks. She thanked AARP’s colleagues for organizing a commendable event and highlighted the need to look at older women as the future, citing that by 2050 the number of women ages 60 and older will be greater than 1 billion.Despite representing a significant portion of the world’s older population, older women are far too overlooked in key global policy discussions and decisions, particularly those related to economic security later in life,” she added. Whitman explained that worldwide most older women lack pensions. For the few who do have them, their benefits are lower than men’s despite women having longer life expectancies.

The Honorable Kwabena Osei-Danquah, chef de cabinet to the president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, graced the event as a keynote speaker. He spoke on behalf of the president of the General Assembly, her Excellency María Fernanda Espinosa. The Honorable Osei-Danquah expressed that nearly 700 million people are ages 60 and older and that number is expected to rise to nearly 2 billion by 2025. Thus, older people will represent about one-fifth of the global population, outnumbering children and young people. He emphasized that the gender pay gap is not expected to close until 2086, due to the fact that women tend to contribute less to pension schemes and are more vulnerable to poverty in older age. He stated that the General Assembly continues working on such issues through the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, which generates healthy debates regarding the need for a dedicated convention on older people’s rights. “Agenda 2030 also makes explicit reference to older persons and rightly so; older people make a substantial contribution to the global economy both through formal and informal ways,” he added.

Head of Policy for Social Protection at the ILO Christina Behrendt stressed that only 45 percent of people in the world are covered by social protection programs. She further explained that worldwide about two-thirds of older people have access to some kind of a pension, yet it is not enough. “Greater efforts and investments are needed to ensure that everyone has a right to social security and social protection, as a basic human right,” she said. Referencing the Commission for Social Development, Behrendt explained that such a platform presented an opportunity to include older people—“front and center,” in people-centered and inclusive development. She gave examples of a few countries that have invested in pensions that could be used as a benchmark to secure social protection in old age. She also highlighted that other countries have been cutting pensions as part of austerity measures, which inevitably creates a large challenge related to income security for older people, especially women.

Echoing similar sentiments but from a human rights’ perspective, Andrew Gilmore, assistant secretary general of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained that the global human rights situation concerning social protection for older women is very grim. He stated that, generally, women are discriminated against, and there is double discrimination against older women. As an entry point, the Sustainable Development Goals centered on the tenet of leaving no one behind are a good starting point to champion human rights for older people. Gilmore explained that, while there are nine treaty bodies of UN conventions, none of them apply solely to older people.

Sharing another perspective, Justin Derbyshire, CEO of Help Age International, expressed that, among United Nations agencies and within most Member States, there are few resources that focus on older people—a situation he likened to the issue of population aging as an “invisible iceberg.” He continued, “From an evidenced-based perspective, when older persons are not included in the development agenda, including in policies and programs, older women are disproportionately affected and the achievement of the SDGs will not be possible without them.”

Adding to the dialogue, Cindy Hounsell, president the Women’s Institute for Secure Retirement, articulated that social protections often do not benefit those people who need them; many people do not know their rights, let alone the retirement age, she explained. She further stated it was time to move from mere discussions to actions, including a global campaign that brings awareness to the social protection of older peoples.

Summing up the discussion, moderator Kumar reiterated that the discussion emphasized one key issue—“social protection for older women mattered because it connected a lot of elements, from human rights, economic, innovation, the future of work, etc.; it was fundamentally a women’s rights issue.”

Amal Abou Rafeh, chief, Program on Ageing at UNDESA, delivered the closing remarks. She expressed gratitude to the panelists for deliberating such a complex issue and bringing light to the realities that many older women face throughout their life, including discrimination in employment, social protection, and provision of basic social services, which should be considered part of their human rights. She highlighted the role of public policy research and insights that have found their way into governmental processes through the UN secretary general’s report on aging. In addition, she noted how numerous studies on the Sustainable Development Goals have indicated the goals cannot be achieved without the full engagement of older people and consideration of the issue of global aging. Abou Rafeh thanked the cohost AARP for organizing the event and recognized its long-standing advocacy. She noted AARP has successfully collaborated with governments and various entities, private businesses, and NGOs to champion the interest of older people both in the United States and globally. She concluded the event with the hashtag #thetimeisnow.

For more information about the AARP UN Briefing Series, contact Erica Dhar, Director of Global Alliances, AARP International.