During the recent celebration of the 20th International Day of Older Persons in New York, Bridget Sleap, a rights policy adviser at HelpAge International, addressed why the Millennium Development goals did not deal adequately with gender equality and discrimination. According to Bridget, governments are not required to reach the most marginalized people and end discrimination against women, making such discrimination "invisible." Often poverty reduction programs ignore the most marginalized population- older women.
Not only do elderly women comprise 60% of the work force in those countries, but they contribute to poverty reduction by spending the small pensions that they have on food. They are more likely to care for families, especially because the gender gap widens with age. In South Africa, for example, 88% of older people caring for their grandchildren were women. If women are such an integral part of promoting and developing their communities, why are they not protected by the MDGs?
Bridget focused on this question and suggested a number of actions that could be taken to strengthen and empower older women. Non-contributory pensions and a minimum level of social protection are needed as a first step. She suggested that the UNWomen Unit take a life course approach and pay greater attention to ageing. Also, CEDAW should include older women as well. Many older women face discrimination, but their hardships are much less frequently addressed. Last but not least, Bridget stated that governments need to enter a discussion about a human rights convention for older persons’ rights. Older women do a lot to uphold their communities. They need to be heard, empowered, and given the tools to do more.