Women and ageing

Women are outliving men and comprise the majority of older persons in nearly every part of the world. This is most evident in the upper years, where women outnumber men by approximately 2:1 among those aged 80 and over (65:35 per cent, respectively). The life path of women everywhere is often imbued with conflicted priorities and exigencies. This can lead in later life to wisdom, but the majority of older women are also paired with fewer resources and opportunities, creating obstacles to their full participation in the socio-economic, cultural and political life of their countries. Two recurrent phenomena further affect how older women are viewed and treated: policies generally address them as "vulnerable", overlooking structural inequalities; and representative images of older persons tend to omit them. Activities during the Year, however, reveal a greater awareness of the potential and contributions of older women.

National activities
New Zealand has earmarked funds for researching and celebrating the lives of older female achievers. Equatorial Guinea is examining the role of older women in development vis-à-vis poverty eradication. Mongolia is working to remove obstacles to women's participation in political, economic and social spheres and to enhance the political and economic power of women, with priority given to assisting rural women. In Israel, the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center is focused on addressing the particular concerns of older women for the Year. The Netherlands has placed emphasis on organizing projects for women over 50 years of age, and Belgium organized a seminar on older women, in conjunction with the Belgian Dutch-speaking Women's Council and the Higher Institute for Family Science, in February 1999. In the Republic of Korea, the Presidential Commission on Women's Affairs is supporting the active participation of older women and addressing their care and income security needs - issues that were explored at a broad-based conference, co-hosted by a Republic of Korea enterprise and UNDP in June, on "The challenges for older women in the twenty-first century: gender issues of eldercare".

Singapore hosted the conference, Women's Health: The Nation's Gain, in July 1999, which paid particular attention to older women in Asia. The conference was supported in part by the Tsao Foundation and UNIFEM. The United States launched "Take time to care", a grass-roots initiative to raise awareness among older women about taking medications safely.

United Nations system
Older women's active role in development was taken up by the Commission on the Status of Women at its forty-third session, based on a report entitled "Gender and ageing: problems, perceptions and politics". Among other things, the report, prepared by the Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations Secretariat, discussed key global issues regarding the differential impact of population ageing on men and women. At its forty-second session and in the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Commission reviewed the report and recommendations of the Expert Group Meeting on Caregiving and Older Persons: Gender Dimensions, held in Malta in late 1997. The Commission ultimately adopted resolution 42/4, on older women and support systems: gender and caregiving.

The United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) focused particular attention on the role of older women in supporting households and in families where the principal woman migrates. Its December 1998 issue of INSTRAW News featured articles related to women's life cycle. The FAO Women in Development Service published a study, "Participatory rural appraisal and socio-economic and gender analysis", focusing on the growing phenomenon of the feminization of agriculture, particularly with regard to older women.

International non-governmental organizations
The Pan-African Foundation for Childhood and Third Age Protection (FETAG) promotes competitions that advance research in a variety of areas, including the situation of older widows in polygamous families and the relationship between a woman's age and her status in society. The Older Women's Network will convene a conference on "Older women and social exclusion: issues, empowerment, action", in the Netherlands in October 1999. Global Action on Aging convened a preparatory event in Tennessee, United States, in August 1998 which examined and ultimately adopted the Nashville Declaration on Older Women's Human Rights. AARP International Activities will convene, together with the Netherlands Platform Older People and Europe (NPOE) and the United Nations programme on ageing, an international symposium on "The impact of globalization on images of older women", in New York in October 1999, which will lay the foundations for global research into this critical issue as it explores stereotypes of older women and how they affect status and opportunities.