photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash
Under the motto ‘I am Generation Equality’, this years’ International Women’s Day marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration on Women’s Rights and Platform of Action. Despite being a core principle of the European Union, equality between men and women is not yet a reality in Europe. With inequalities accumulating as women grow older. While the European Commission has just unveiled its EU Gender Equality Strategy for the next 5 years, we claim gender equality for ALL generations of women!
Since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action 25 years ago, gender equality has progressed across Europe as a result of several generations of women who, before and since the Beijing Declaration, fought for equal rights. Still, the difference of treatment in the labour market, the unbalanced share of household and care duties, violence against women and girls, are the sad proof that gender equality remains a challenge for today’s generations. The advances towards more gender equality that have been achieved in the recent decades are now under threat in many parts of the world as well as in Europe.
The new generations are joining this journey for gender equality, but this process is not the duty of only one generation. In a society where men and women experience gender inequalities, these differences tend to increase as we grow older and life experiences accumulate. While older women have set the foundations and are part of this ‘Generation Equality’, they also claim equality for all generations of women.
“Although a lot has been achieved in the past 25 years, there is still prejudice, negative stereotyping and a huge lack of knowledge about differences between women and men as they age – about how policies affect women’s daily lives differently, often with negative effects cumulating in old age on their health, social and working lives, income, violence and abuse”, says Laura Christ, from OVN-NL and OWN Europe
Girls, how will you age in Europe?
In many ways, older women experience later life differently than older men:
- Gender gaps in employment and wages increase with age: while the gender wage gap was 12% for 20-29 year-olds, it reached almost 19% for workers over 60 in 2014. Regarding employment rates, while the gap between women and men is of 11% between age 25 and 54, it is of 13% at age 55-64.
- Women remain the main provider of care: they are 28% of 55-64 year-old women and 17% of women 65+ to support and assist family members (vs. 17% and 16% of men) – the consequences are increased risk of health problems, social isolation and poverty for older women.
- The poverty risk of the oldest women (75+) has been rising for five years in a row and currently stands at 23% at EU level for 2018. Similarly, poverty and social exclusion rates of women 65-74 have also risen at a slower pace (19% in 2018). The gender gap in pensions stands at 36% on average in 2017.
- Violence against older women is widespread and often stays in the shadows. Estimates are that one in six older women have experienced violence, neglect and abuse. The TISOVA project aims to provide trainings to identify and support older victims of abuse. This is a start, but the EU should fully embrace the fight against violence against women of all ages!
- While women live longer, they spend a longer proportion of their lives in bad health, according to the healthy life years indicator. Many health problems related to old age, such as dementia, have a disproportionate effect on older women.
Older women speak up too!
Increasingly, older women are speaking up against sexism. The multiple discrimination that is well-known of women of colours, for instance, is often also experienced in older age by women that are living the cumulated effect of sexism and ageism.
Recent movements openly denounce the inequalities, violence and abuse women still experience just because they are women. Gender inequalities and violence can take many forms, but they do not spare any generation. Since we started our #AgeingEqual campaign in 2018, we collected many stories of older women testifying of their reality.
Read the new testimonies we collected over the past year as part of the #AgeingEqual campaign:
- ‘No woman should endure the years that I endured’ says Anna who experienced domestic violence for 50 years, because a man who made her feel as if she was his property
- ‘You find your way out, with help, and with courage’ says Montse to respond to the psychological abuse she experienced
- ‘After you hear the word “No” enough times you stop asking’ are the words of Anna, reported by her daughter Eliza, who feels that her mother’s rights are being violated
- ‘I didn’t realize that my age would be a factor holding me back’ says Zelda about the academic glass ceiling she encountered when trying to purse a PhD at 56
Where are older women in the European Gender Equality Strategy?
On 5th March, a few days ahead of the Women’s International Day, the European Commission published its European Gender Equality Strategy setting out its key actions for 2020-2025. AGE welcomes the adoption of the strategy and the aims for women to ‘be free, thrive and lead’. On this occasion we would like to remind everyone that older women should not be forgotten in the realisation of the Strategy. Political commitment at highest level is needed to ensure EU action will effectively address equality for women throughout their lives:
- The Commission promises ‘being free from violence and stereotypes’. Yet violence against older women is not mentioned in the Strategy, even if many older women may be considered as covered by a focus on women with health problems or disabilities. The ‘EU-wide survey on violence against women’ to be presented by 2023 should also aim to shed light on violence, abuse and neglect women face in older age. Similarly, gender stereotypes against older women should be addressed.
- The Commission wants women to ‘thrive in a gender-equal economy’. It rightly focusses on gender discrimination at the beginning and the middle of working lives: segregation in jobs, education and training, gender pay gaps and unequal share of (child) care. The Commission should also put a particular emphasis on long-term care services to support gender equality, and work-life balance for informal carers. The announcement of the Green Paper on Ageing to address long-term care, pensions and active ageing is a positive step in this direction.
- The ‘Digital Education Action Plan’ will seek to increase women’s participation in the digital society. We hope that it will not leave older women behind.
- The Commission’s proposals to address the current gender pension gap are more than welcomed: by assessing how risks and resources are shared in pension systems between women and men and explore the provision of pension credits for care-related career breaks. However, this should not only be addressed in the domain of occupational pensions, but also in the domain of statutory pensions.
- We welcome the actions put forward to enable women to ‘lead’ in society and hope that the role of older women in shaping their communities as active citizens and volunteers will be recognised and supported.
- The efforts to mainstream gender into all policies are a positive step, however a strong steering of this process by Commissioner Dalli should be ensured so that gender mainstreaming does not mean dilution among other policy concerns. Particularly, we welcome the emphasis put on gender-related health risks and emphasises that this should also embrace the specific health challenges of older women.
With women earning, on average, 16% less than men per hour worked, equal pay in the EU – is one of the European Commission’s top priorities. Along with its EU Gender Equality Strategy, it has launched a public consultation on wage transparency (open until 28th May) and will propose binding measures on the subject by the end of the year, as Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, promised to the press.
- AGE’s work on gender equality in old age
- AGE’s contribution to the next European Gender Equality Strategy
- #AgeingEqual testimonies and resources about ageism and gender
- European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025