Briefing Paper: Beijing Platform for Action (SCOW)

Sub Committee on Older Women – NGO/Committee on the Status of Women, NY


Dear Colleagues,

We are happy to share with you this copy of the twelve Briefing Papers which were developed by the Sub Committee on Older Women of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York.  The issues in the twelve Papers reflect and respond to the Twelve Critical Areas of Concern identified in the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Sub Committee developed these papers as a tool in our efforts to advocate, lobby and program plan on behalf of older women.  We hope that they will be useful to you as well and we encourage you to use them widely.

The Sub Committee has used these Briefing Papers effectively in our efforts to bring older women’s issues into the discussions of the CEDAW Meetings (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women).  In this effort they have been shared with representatives at the UN Missions of countries which are reporting to the CEDAW Committee, with the Experts who are charged with reviewing the reports submitted by the governments of these countries, by the UN Secretariat staff in their work with the CEDAW Committee of Experts, and with representatives of NGOs of reporting countries to encourage and help them to include issues of older women in the development of their Shadow Reports.

In addition, the Papers have been helpful in developing programs and seminars, interventions and panel discussions, in short, in bringing attention to the special but neglected issues of older women worldwide.  We have tried to be generic in our approach in order to cover the issues from as wide a perspective as possible.  We hope that you will find these Briefing Papers of relevance and that they will be a helpful tool for you in your work on behalf of older women.


Judy Lear and Patty Day


Sub Committee on Older Women


1. Women and Poverty

CEDAW Article 14: Rural Women

CEDAW Article 15: Equality Before the Law and in Civil Matters


How are women treated under the social security system in your country?

Does the system count care giving periods, collect statistics on the unremunerated work of women?

Are inheritance rights equal for men and women?

To what extent is public transport made available and designed for accessibility, safety, and convenience for older and/or disabled women?


It is important to recognize the factors that lead to the feminization of poverty such as the lack of access to resources including credit, land ownership and inheritance, lack of access to education, and minimal participation to the decision making process. The feminization of poverty occurs in all countries, as mass poverty in many developing countries and as pockets of poverty amidst wealth in developed countries.  There is the possibility of utter destitution of people who fall outside the family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.

The risk of falling into poverty is greater for women than for men, particularly in old age where social security is based on the principle of continuous remunerated employment.  Moreover, older women also face greater obstacles to labor market reentry.

Adequate safety nets must be established and state-based and community based support systems implemented in order to ensure that men and women are on equal footing.

Individuals are more likely to develop physical disabilities due to the process of aging, and appropriate and adequate transport is necessary for them in order to manage day-to-day living and to be integrated into public life.

2. Education and Training of Women

CEDAW Article 7:   Political and public life

CEDAW Article 11: Employment


What provisions are there for the education of older women?

Does your country have data on adult literacy rates that are further disaggregated by age?


The low educational level of older women challenges their full participation in the public and political life of the country.  By providing them continuing education, such as literacy programs and vocational training, their political participation can be assured as well as their economic security. Society can benefit from their continuing energy, commitment, and contributions.

The concept of lifelong learning includes knowledge and skills gained in formal education and training as well as learning that occurs in informal ways, including volunteer activity, unremunerated work and traditional knowledge.

The goal of equal access to education must be advanced by taking measures to eliminate discrimination in education at all levels on the basis of gender, race, language, religion, national origin, age or disability, or any other form of discrimination, and as appropriate, consider establishing procedures to address grievances.

3. Women and Health

CEDAW Article 12: Equality in Access to Health Care

CEDAW Article 14: Rural Women


How does the health care system ensure appropriate care for the older women?

Are older women’s health concerns treated from a life cycle perspective?

Is your country’s health data disaggregated by gender and age?


Postmenopausal conditions and diseases tend to be neglected in research, academic studies, public policy, and service provision.

Women’s quality of life is in danger of being compromised without specific understanding of the older women’s physical, functional and mental health needs.

Health care service provision must be affordable, appropriate and accessible especially for those who live in rural areas.

There must be improved data collection on access to health services with special priority for elderly, postmenopausal women, as well as adequate provision of resources and facilities for women who find themselves as the principal caregivers or economic support to those infected with HIV/AIDS and the survivors, particularly children and older persons.

Education and training to parents, decision makers and opinion leaders at all levels of the community, including religious and traditional authorities, on prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and on their repercussions on both women and men of all ages is necessary.

The inter-relationship of ageing and disability among all women needs particular attention.  The long-term health prospects of women are influenced by changes at menopause, which, in combination with lifelong conditions, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, may increase the risk of disabilities.

4. Violence Against Women

CEDAW Article 3:   Equality in the Exercise and Enjoyment of Human Rights and

Fundamental Freedoms

CEDAW Article 5:   Elimination of Sex Role Stereotyping and


CEDAW Article 15: Law

CEDAW Article 16: Marriage and Family Life


What measures are being taken by your government to prevent acts of gender-based violence against older women?


Older women are particularly vulnerable to physical, sexual, and psychological harm because of their economic and physical dependency both within the family and in society in general.   This abuse often remains hidden and is therefore ignored.

Violence against women throughout the life cycle derives essentially from cultural patterns, in particular the harmful effects from certain traditional and customary practices and all acts of extremism linked to sex and age, language and religion that perpetuate the lower status accorded to women in the family, the workplace, the community and society.

Too many others are victims of elder abuse by family, by caregivers, and sometimes by their community.

Social pressures, poverty, and women’s lack of access to legal protection and information exacerbate violence against older women.  Improved gender-disaggregated and age-specific data on victims and perpetrators of all forms of violence against women of all ages must be developed.

5. Women and Armed Conflict

Convention Article 3: Quality in the Exercise and Enjoyment of

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms


Are there programs in your country which address the specific needs of older refugees and displaced persons?

In policies regarding refugees and displaced persons, are older women viewed as a resource, a source of continuity and strength, or are they primarily viewed as a burden and a doubtful investment in the future?


Armed conflict, aggression, foreign occupation, ethnic and other types of conflict are still a bitter reality in nearly every part of the world.  As a consequence, international humanitarian law, prohibiting attacks on civilian populations is at times systematically ignored.  Human rights are often violated in connection with situations of armed conflict affecting the civilian population, especially women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

War situations have created massive flows of refugees and other displaced persons in need of protection.  One of the most vulnerable groups is older women who make up a significant part of every refugee population.

In war and situations of conflict and in national and international policies regarding refugees and displaced persons, older women are often viewed as a burden and a doubtful investment in the future, instead of being viewed as a resource, a source of continuity and strength.

It is often the older women who become the caregivers of the injured, other elderly and the children.  They are left to raise the future generations when the parents have been lost to war and civil strife.

6. Women and the Economy

CEDAW Article 11: Employment

CEDAW Article 13: Economic and Social Benefit

CEDAW Article 14: Rural Women


What provisions are there for the economic security of older women and ageing disabled women?

Do the employment policies in your country discriminate against older women in terms of equal pay, job security, training and promotion?

Are care giving and part time work covered in your social security system??

Is provision made for older women who are not covered by any social security provision?


According to United Nations projections, 72% of the population over 60 years of age will be living in developing countries by the year 2020 and more than half of that population will be women.  Increasing consideration for the financial sustainability of older women must be addressed soon, given the scope of longevity for women, who on average can expect to live 5-10 years longer than their male counterparts.

This also points to the fact that the world of the very old is increasingly widowed females which is a particularly “at risk” group in many parts of the world.

Income security in all countries, developed and developing, is essential to avoid a degrading death in poverty for older people, especially older women.

Throughout their lives, older women have done much unwaged work necessary for the full support of their families and for the benefit of their communities.

Even in paid work, historically women have suffered inequalities in wages, benefits and pensions.  But women, who have done unwaged work, including agricultural work, are doubly disadvantaged when they become older because they are not eligible for pensions and other social security schemes, even in developed countries.

There must be an improvement in the measurements which presently underestimate women’s unemployment and under employment in the labor market

7. Women in Power and Decision-Making

CEDAW Article 7: Political and Public Life

CEDAW Article 8: International Representation


What action has your government taken to ensure that older women are encouraged to participate in decision-making processes especially those which affect their lives?

Are there any mechanisms in place that encourage such participation?


Women’s lack of access to positions of power and participation in decision-making is reflected in the fact that globally only 10% of the members of legislative bodies and an even lower percentage of ministerial positions are now held by women, although they represent at least half of the electorate in almost all countries of the world.  It should come as no surprise that older women are not even mentioned in this context.

It is true that while many of the women who are in decision making positions are themselves no longer young, few of them speak on behalf of older women.

It is also true that older women in traditional societies often maintain a certain amount of power in decision making in the affairs of the family, however this tends to diminish sharply in modern industrialized societies where older women are often marginalized when it comes to participation in decision making at many different levels including with respect to their own lives.

Programs should be developed for development for women of all ages including career planning, tracking, mentoring, coaching, training and re-training in order to support their full participation and acceptance as decision makers.

8. Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women

CEDAW Article 7:   Political and Public Life

CEDAW Article 15: Law


What is the institutional mechanism in your country, which guarantees the equal treatment of women of all ages in the national life of your country?

How does the national machinery for the advancement of women work in you country and are there provisions for the inclusion of older women?

How does your country treat statistical data relating to women’s unremunerated activities?

What do your country’s statistics on older women show regarding their economic and health status?


The objective of the national machineries is to integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies and programs.

Mechanisms can be diverse in form but should not be uneven in their effectiveness.

The responsibility for the advancement of all women of all ages must be vested in the highest possible level of government, preferably at the level of a cabinet minister.

It must be insured that statistics relating to individuals are collected, compiled, analyzed and presented by sex and age and reflect problems and questions related to all men and women of all ages.

9. Human Rights of Women

CEDAW Article 3: Quality in the exercise and Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms


How is discrimination based on age and sex confronted in your country?

Did your country ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and if not why not?

What is your country’s attitude toward the Optional Protocol of CEDAW?


The World Conference on Human Rights (1993) reaffirmed that the human rights of women throughout the life cycle are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.

The gap between the existence of legal rights and their effective enjoyment derives from a lack of commitment by governments to promoting and protecting those rights and the failure of governments to inform women and men alike about them.

The lack of appropriate recourse mechanisms at the national and international levels, and inadequate resources at both levels, compound the problem.

Age is not one of the forms of discrimination that is explicitly mentioned for elimination in the CEDAW Convention.  It is therefore especially necessary that governments ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice and also include non-discrimination clauses and practices at a national level to ensure the rights of older women.  Women of all ages should be able to enjoy equal rights.

10. Women and the Media

CEDAW Article 2: Measures to Eliminate Discrimination

CEDAW Article 5: Elimination of Sex Role Stereotyping and



How are older women treated by the media in your country?

Are they primarily depicted as being vulnerable and dependent or are they realistically portrayed in ways that reflect their diversity, independence, strengths, resourcefulness and creativity?


The global communication networks have an enormous impact on public policy and private behavior.

Unfortunately the projection of women in the media is often negative and degrading.

This is especially true for older women who have tended to be either invisible in the media or portrayed in stereotypically negative images.

The ways we think and talk about older women must change to reflect the changes that are occurring in the lives of older women, especially in the developed world.

Old images must be replaced with new dynamic images of women over sixty as these images are increasingly becoming part of the globalised world and are therefore broadcast around the world.

11. Women and the Environment

CEDAW Article 13: Economic and Social Benefit

CEDAW Article 14: Rural Women

CEDAW Article 15: Equality Before the Law and in Civil Matters


What is your country doing to insure a healthy and sustainable environment for the use of all its citizens including older women?

Is the traditional knowledge of older women about food and nutrition, as well as agricultural techniques and environmental management, properly used as a resource?

Are the consumer concerns and special needs of older women taken into consideration?


Having access to a sustainable environment and decent living conditions is a fundamental Human Right.

Women have always had a vital role in the development of sustainable and ecologically sound consumption and production patterns.

But while women play an important role as managers, consumers and producers at the household level, they are mostly absent at the level of environmental policy-making and decision-making.

Women, particularly indigenous women and often older women, can have specialized knowledge about ecological linkages and fragile ecosystems.  This knowledge is not utilized sufficiently

Older women who are isolated or are no longer able to live independently often suffer from a lack of basic housing, safe water,

12. The Girl Child

CEDAW Article 5:   Elimination of Sex Role Stereotyping and Prejudice

CEDAW Article 10: Education

CEDAW Article 13: Economic and Social Benefit


What programs in your country focus on solidarity between the generations?


From the perspective of women’s entire life cycles, the disadvantages girls experience and the consequent disabilities they suffer during young ages will have serious repercussions on how they will age and the number of problems they will face at older ages.

Intergenerational solutions that produce solidarity among the generations may be an approach to improving the lives of both girls and older women.

By improving the lives of today’s girls, we improve the outcomes of tomorrow’s older women.

Girls are often treated as inferior and are socialized to put themselves last, thus undermining their self-esteem.

Discrimination and neglect in childhood can initiate a downward spiral of deprivation and exclusion from the social mainstream.

Although the number of educated children has grown in the past twenty years, in some countries boys have proportionately fared much better than girls.

In 1990 one hundred and thirty million children had no access to primary school; of these eighty one million were girls.  Without education these girls are doomed to a life and old age of poverty.

NGO Committee on Ageing • PO Box 1854 • New York, NY • 10163-1854