Shameful Contrast: Inequality at the Intersection of Age and Gender

15th Annual AARP - United Nations Briefing

On March 15, 2022, AARP and the United Nations (UN) hosted their 15th Annual Briefing Series, Shameful Contrast: Inequality at the Intersection of Age and Gender. This year’s focus was on the intersection between aging and gender and the challenges and opportunities of older women in different areas. The conversation aimed to identify national and global policies relevant to older women and provide recommendations that empower women in the workforce globally. Throughout the briefing, participants heard from several experts, policy professionals, and thought leaders on the different forms of age discrimination that all women face with a particular focus on older women, who shoulder the brunt of it at work, home, and in their communities. 

RECORDED WEBINAR

Key Takeaways/Action Items

 

1) Older women are too often seen as victims needing to be saved as opposed to decision makers and agents of change. To address this challenge, older women must be included in the decision making processes and have their narratives incorporated into policy solutions.

2) There needs to be a paradigm shift within both the international community and governments on the rights of older women. To that end, these institutions must also promote and put in place protective legal mechanisms that involve civil society to affirm the rights of older women, particularly as it relates to rights to wealth.

3) The pandemic has exposed the gaps in the international legal framework for the protection of the legal rights of older women. Eliminating these disparities must be prioritized by the international community through legal instruments to further safeguard the rights of older women.

4) Older women remain chronically invisible in regards to the violence, abuse, and neglect that is perpetrated against them.

5) The uneven burden of unpaid caregiving work almost exclusively falls on the shoulders of women. This pulls women away from opportunities for career advancement and economic stability.

 

Briefing Summary

Opening Remarks

The Briefing was opened by Erica Dhar, Director of Global Alliances and International Affairs for  AARP. She introduced Edna Kane Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for AARP, who opened her remarks by calling attention to the alarming increase in violence against women, particularly towards women of Asian descent. This unprecedented rise in violence against women requires action to end violence and educate communities and institutions to put an end to these human rights violations. She emphasized the importance of being an ally and fostering a safe environment for all women to live, work, and learn.

Ms. Williams concluded by discussing her own experiences as a Black woman growing up in the southern United States. Her grandparents worked as sharecroppers and her mother as a factory worker making a couple of dollars per hour and her journey to become an executive of America’s largest member-based organization. She acknowledged that while progress has been made, there is far more work to be done to achieve a safer world for women and girls. 

Welcome Remarks

Following Ms. William’s remarks, Ambassador Maria Del Carmen Squeff, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations, reaffirmed her country’s ongoing commitment to support the rights of older women and acknowledged that disparities grow when we consider factors such as race and ethnicity. She called on the United Nations to continue and expand its efforts to support older women. Furthermore, Ambassador Squeff noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted older women across the globe. According to research from the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 88%of the women who have died from COVID-19 have been older.

The pandemic has exposed the gaps in the international system in the protection of the legal rights of older people and Ambassador Squeff said that this must be corrected. She also pointed out that an aging population is a universal phenomenon, noting that the global population of older persons is projected to rise to 1.5 billion in the next three decades.

Keynote Address

The keynote speech was delivered by Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences. She discussed the unique challenges and discriminations faced by older women and how they remain, “chronically invisible in regards to the violence, abuse and neglect that is perpetuated against them.

Ms. Alsalem emphasized the need to more intentionally include older women at the decision making table, especially when the conversation impacts their livelihoods, and that portraying them only as victims hurts them. Older women belong at the center of the response to violence and abuse that targets them.

She also noted that this year marks the 66th Commission on the Status of Older Women, and emphasized that older people must be part of solutions to the ongoing climate crisis in a way that does not marginalize or exclude them.

Furthermore, Ms. Alsalem shed light on the contributions that older persons make towards people they care for and their communities, mostly while contributing to retirement from a paid job. It cannot go unrecognized that many older persons around the world continue to work and support their families even if it is detrimental to their own health. These realities often go unnoticed, and are completely invisible to most. Societies must recognize that older persons, namely older women, are guides rich with wisdom and knowledge.

Ms. Alsalem touched on the long-standing gap in data, particularly as it relates to violence and abuse towards women aged 50 and over. Data is the crux to creating policies that address the needs and capture the lived experiences of older women, and it must be prioritized.

Lastly, Ms.Alsalem discussed the Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda, noting that it did not acknowledge older persons or older women. She said that the Common Agenda must reflect the values of the international community, which state that older persons, especially older women, are protected and can continue to participate meaningfully in life.

She closed her remarks by asking all participants to reaffirm the rights of older women and to call on UN member states to adopt programs tailored to the physical, mental, and emotional health needs of older women, as well as safeguard their rights and recognize their unique contributions. 

Moderated Panel Conversation

A panel discussion followed the keynote remarks. The panelists were Papa Seck, Chief Statistician for UN Women, Claudia Mahler, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by older persons, and Rachel Vogelstein, Senior Advisor, to the White House Gender Policy Council, and the moderator was Rajesh Mirchandani, Chief Communications Officer of the UN Foundation. 

Mr. Mirchandani asked all panelists,“What discriminations and inequalities do older women face?” Dr. Mahler pointed out that while older persons face many forms of discrimination, the focus on older women needs to be brought to the forefront. She discussed the current focus being on younger women and girls, while older women often get left behind as an afterthought. She also discussed that what defines an ‘older person’ is not squarely focused on age, as they all have different levels of education, work experience, and care needs.

The next question was, “What does your data show is the extent of this form of intersectional inequality?” Mr. Seck discussed findings by UN Women, saying.“Older women have been extremely harmed by the pandemic.” Their economic conditions have worsened, they are at a higher risk of violence, and they are turning to domestic, caregiving, and childcare work at higher rates than before the pandemic. Furthermore, they are receiving less economic support from governments and are facing huge challenges in meeting their health needs. He concluded his response by affirming that more must be done to protect and uphold the rights of older women.

The last question was, “Why is this [gender equity] a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration, and how much of a problem do we see here in the U.S.?” Ms. Vogelstein stated that addressing gender equity has been a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and highlighted the creation of the White House Gender Policy Council on International Women’s Day in 2021. She also touched on the objectives of the first-ever National Gender Policy and Strategy released last fall, which included addressing the growing needs and challenges facing older women. The strategy also addresses women’s economic security, specifically as it relates to closing the pay gap facing women. Ms.Vogelstein also brought up the increase in caregiving responsibilities for women and highlighted the need to strengthen the care infrastructure.

Following a round of discussion questions, Mr. Mirchandani gave panelists the opportunity to respond to one another. Dr. Mahler started by discussing the pension gap older women also face. She said the pension and pay gaps have been well known and widely discussed for years, and questioned why we are still at the starting point in terms of addressing and finding solutions. Dr. Mahler also said too much emphasis is placed on the violence and abuse experienced by older women instead of their skills and achievements. This drives a stigma that incorrectly portrays women as weak and unable to solve this challenge. Ms.Vogelstein discussed how women in the U.S. women have limited access to childcare and highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority to improve this issue. Lastly, Mr. Seck discussed the ways in which work is recognized and valued, and how recognition paves the way for progress in this regard.

Respondents

Mr. Mirchandani then turned to Georgina Veitch, Gender Policy Advisor for HelpAge International, and Supriya Akerkar, PhD, Director of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom to share their thoughts on the discussion.

Ms. Veitch discussed the need to shift perceptions and narratives around older women, and how that can be done by including more of them in policy and research. Additionally, she expressed the need for innovative solutions and shared the global Leave No One Behind Partnership, which this year has launched programs in Malawi and Denmark to conduct community inclusive data projects. Ms.Veitch also discussed how even survey tools can sometimes be limited when they do not disaggregate by age and sex, therefore not truly capturing the experiences of older women. Simply put, the lack of strong data affects more than just policy, because it also hampers accurate research regarding the experiences of older women.

She noted that stereotypes based on sexism do not go away as one ages. They only grow worse, especially if they are intersecting with race, disability, or widowhood. Ms.Veitch called on stakeholders and participants to build a broad coalition to address the challenges that older women are facing and that reflects a willingness to seek older women’s input. Older women must be at the decision making table, and included in conversations regarding their rights.

Dr.Akerkar, whose research is grounded in the experiences of older persons, people with disabilities, particularly within the context of gender, said that the narrative on older women, implies a period of decline, which negatively impacts them. We must question this narrative and move away from discussing age in simply medicalized terms. Governments must also develop social care and support for older women that recognize the unpaid and invisible care they provide. She highlighted the recent UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Report on Gender and Older People, which affirmed many of the themes discussed throughout the panel. 

Then, Dr.Akerkar called on the UN and other international organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) to develop positive depictions of older women that can change the current discourse. To do this, international organizations and NGOs should use local understandings of gender and age to describe how older persons are holders of valuable knowledge and agents of change.

Lastly, older women are especially vulnerable to a loss of status as they age, particularly if they do not have children due to entrenched patriarchal norms. In response, governments and UN agencies must promote and put in place protective legal mechanisms that involve civil society to affirm the rights of older women, particularly as it relates to rights to property. She ended her remarks with an emphasis on the need to gain an understanding of older women and the nuances that exist across different races, socioeconomic conditions, and cultures.

Closing Remarks

Masumi Ono, Chief of Social Inclusion and Participation Branch in the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, provided brief closing remarks, announcing the publication of a new advocacy brief, Older Women: Inequality at the Intersection of Age and Gender. It addresses how to better integrate old age and gender perspectives into policymaking. She thanked the event speakers and sponsors and closed by saying she was looking forward to the next 16th annual briefing next year.

Resources

Five ways older women are affected by the pandemic

With the global population aged 60 years or over projected to double in the first half of this century, and women living longer than men in all countries, older women are fast becoming a demographic majority. Yet women are particularly vulnerable to the social, health and economic impediments associated with old age because of a lifetime of economic disadvantage. They have lower income security, less access to land, housing and other assets, and are less likely than men to receive a pension. Older women are also more likely to face age-based discrimination than older men. Despite this, older women’s needs remain largely overlooked and unaddressed in public policies.  Read full article from UN Women 

Human rights of older women: the intersection between ageing and gender

In the present report, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler, unpacks the gendered effects of ageing with a focus on the key human rights challenges and concerns of older women.  Read full report 

Older Women: Inequality at the Intersection of Age and Gender

This advocacy brief explores some areas where ageism intersects with gender-based discrimination. The situation, challenges, opportunities, and diversity of older women in our societies are often overlooked in discussions concerning women and gender and, to some degree, in those devoted to older persons. Read Advocacy Brief

Older Women: The Hidden Workforce

We listened to the lived experiences of older women and know that the work they do is varied and vital yet lower paid and undervalued, and often including pressure from others to give extra time for caring and community work. We’re calling for their voices to be heard and their needs to be met. Read Full Report by Age International

For more information, please contact:
Erica Dhar, Director for Global Alliances, AARP: edhar@aarp.org

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