Policy Advisor, Age International
Asma, 60, works 18-hours a day to care for her family but her constant struggle goes without recognition or support.
Asma, 60, from Ethiopia lives with 10 family members in a home consisting of one and a half rooms. She has worked most of her life, caring for her family and putting food on the table by washing other people’s clothes. Asma wakes at 5am to pray, fetches water, prepares breakfast for her family, spends the day doing household chores such as washing clothes, makes dinner and then finally goes to sleep at 11pm. The job is demanding and has become more difficult as she ages – but there aren’t many other options for older women in urban Ethiopia.
Asma explains: “Putting food on the table is my everyday struggle, as our income is decreasing from time to time whilst the cost of living is increasing in an unimaginable way…most people in our area are dependent on washing clothes which creates strong competition among us. I feel hopelessness, it leaves me in constant fear.”
Negative stereotypes and assumptions are a barrier to older women’s access to decent work, savings, pensions and decision-making.
The exclusion of older women
Data and research often exclude older women like Asma, particularly those from the poorest countries. Older women are absent from policy and programmes that are designed to tackle gender equality, but fail to reach women past a certain age.
Negative stereotypes and assumptions are a barrier to older women’s access to decent work, savings, pensions and decision-making. Sometimes older women internalise these assumptions; it’s hard not to imagine you are useless when your contributions are made invisible and when you’re told you’re ‘too old’ to participate. All of these factors contribute to the silence around what it means to age as a woman in these contexts. Daily barriers that older women face are compounded by systemic inequalities and a lack of action from policy makers at all levels.
Older women matter
We spoke with older women, including Asma, and the discussions were rich and insightful. Most of all, they made clear the value of making space for older women’s voices, for their benefit but also the benefit of their households and communities.
It is essential that older women are supported to access decent work opportunities and pensions, to have more choice and control over their time and to have their voices heard in the processes that shape public policy. We have an opportunity to ensure older women are given the equal rights they deserve. Across the globe older women, especially in the poorest countries, are facing systemic failures and being let down daily by their governments and society, but it doesn’t have to be this way.