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Time to strengthen older women’s voices

[Brussels, 01 October 2012] Today, 01 October, is the International Day of Older Persons, a day which gains in significance with each year that passes and the number of elderly increases. While women live longer, their quality-of-life-years are shorter. Accumulated lifelong gender inequalities linked to women’s caring roles and expectations, part-time working patterns and less pay result in a greater risk of poverty as women age.

This ‘feminisation of poverty’, on average 22% (1) of women living in the EU over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty against 16% of men in the same age category, gets worse as women age: almost 24% of all women aged 75+ are at risk of poverty; in countries where poverty rates are higher for older people in general, the at risk of poverty rate for women 75+ can reach as high as 40%. (2)

The current crisis and ensuing austerity measures are hitting women hard, particularly older women, as their already meagre pensions are cut and public services are reduced. Across the EU, EWL members attest to the impact of austerity measures on older women: in Greece reduced pensions coupled with severe restrictions in public medical care and pharmaceutical support means that older women cannot afford primary health care. In Poland, older women have to look after their grandchildren as child care and after school services are cut; in Sweden, reductions in publicly funded elder care services result in transferring these services back to families, where younger generations of women are filling the gaps, jeopardising their own economic independence as they age.

It is clear that austerity measures are targeting those with less negotiating power of which the elderly, particularly elderly women, are highly represented.

“Longevity: facing the Future”, the theme of 2012 International Day of Older Persons, will only be meaningful when older women voices are heard and when a gender-sensitive life cycle perspective is at the core of safeguarding women’s rights and economic independence throughout their lives.

The EWL magazine “Women’s Voices” is devoted to women’s rights throughout the life-cycle to mark 2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.

(1) Eurostat, EU-SILC data for 2009.
(2) Asghar Zaidi, Poverty Risks for Older People - An Update, Policy Brief January (1I) 2010, European Centre

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