Published on 5/7/15
Author: Kate Bunting of HelpAge USA
In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was released with the promise of preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women. This was a huge advancement in the discussion of gender as a human rights consideration and opened the door for a global conversation on a formerly taboo subject. In the years since Beijing, the visibility of the issue has grown and more resources are being leveraged and dedicated to fighting violence against women.
Stories about women raped by soldiers, or old into sexual slavery and trafficked have been documented and used to develop a global conscience about this issue. Global campaigns have produced innovative solutions that include everything from crowdsourcing to programs that help communities understand the dangers and signs of gender based violence.
While we can applaud this progress, we must also recognize that there is still a long way to go if we are going to prevent and eliminate all violence against all women. Despite hundreds of studies that have been collected over the years, there is a huge gap in data about older women’s experiences. In fact, the voices of women over 49 are absent from the conversation about violence against women.
Ignoring voices of older women negatively affects all women
The world is aging rapidly; within 10 years the number of people over 60 will be 1 billion and by the year 2050, 1 in 5 people will be over 60. More importantly, 80% of older people –young people of today- will live in the developing world, and the majority will be women. Older women and widows are often marginalized by their communities. This can lead to violence, abuse, and neglect of older women in both the developed and developing world.
Without data and consideration around women over the age of 49, we are weakening our progress on the prevention of violence against women. The exclusion of feedback from this largely affected population leaves a huge gap within accurate data and experience tracking. As a result, older women are not being considered in discussions by key stakeholders. Resulting inaccurate recognition of trends, dialogue and data collection hinders our ability to celebrate full progress. This lack of feedback is not only impeding development of older women’s rights, but rights for women as a whole.
What all of this means is that we can no longer ignore older women when we look at the issues of violence against women. We need to clearly understand their experiences so that we can ensure that our efforts are targeted appropriately.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Recognize the trend and talk about it. HelpAge met with experts during the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to inspire some debate and hear from those at the forefront like Assistant Secretary for Aging, Kathy Greenlee and Susan Markham, Senior Coordinator for Gender at the U.S. Agency for International Development. You can view the recorded version here.
- Gather data. There is a clear need for more inclusive data. There are a few initiatives under way to study the prevalence of gender-based violence among people over 49, but we have a long way to go. HelpAge and AAAS have just initiated a two-year study that will begin to shed some light on the issue – however, we need to push for a global approach that incorporates older women as a matter of course – not the exception.
- Finally, celebrate progress. Violence against anyone is an unacceptable act. We need to build on innovations and improve existing efforts by opting for comprehensive studies that take older women into account. By speaking about what has worked in the past and what needs to be improved, we can create sustainable change for women of all ages.
Let’s take the momentum from the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women and make sure that #OlderWomenCount!
About the Author:
Kate Bunting is the CEO of HelpAge USA, an affiliate of HelpAge International – a unique global network dedicated to helping older people overcome poverty and discrimination so they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. As an advocate, campaigner and organizer, Kate has been building citizen advocacy networks and initiatives to fight global poverty for more than twenty years. She is inspired by the families and communities she has worked with overseas who seek peace, justice and improved health and prosperity.
Prior to being appointed CEO of HelpAge USA, Kate served as the Director of Public Engagement at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Managing Director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, spent 17 years working for CARE USA, and has additionally worked on both Capitol Hill and in the private sector.