Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with June Mallon and Elizabeth Sclater during the Commission on the Status of Women by Magali Girod

“Only a few Side Events mentioned older women during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this year,” June Mallon observed as she sat down in the easy chair at Global Action on Aging. Despite their active role as caregivers, workers and peace makers, older women’s issues do not attract a wide audience during the CSW in New York. Only a few Side Events organized by NGOs or UN Agencies took on a life long perspective in their analysis and examples.

To bring more visibility to older women’s issues, Global Action on Aging interviewed two remarkable older European women who are very active in their communities. June Mallon represents the Older Women’s Network Northern Ireland and Elizabeth Sclater is a member of the Older Women’s Network Europe.

Northern Ireland: experience on the ground

In Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, where June comes from, many older people live in isolation. The long conflict in Ireland affected every household and older women were the ones keeping families together. They had lived through the Second World War and used their experience through that difficult time as a way to deal with their current pain in a more constructive and rational way than younger generations.

In the 90's some older women belonged to clubs or church groups but many did not have a forum to turn to and lacked support. The Older Woman's Network N. Ireland was created with funds sourced by N.I.W.E.P. and organized to network and empower older women within their own communities.

Some communities formed their own forums, met once a month where they could state their needs. Participants talked about physical health, mental health, grief, isolation, lack of income and food. Government and policy makers did not recognize older persons' value and hard work at that time. Older people were stereotyped. After some resistance, local councils finally changed their politics and included older people in the system and collaborated actively with the forum. The administration began to hear the voice of older people. The councils now work in close collaboration with the forum to raise awareness of older persons’ needs. June Mallon is an active member in the community as a volunteer, in addition to taking care of her family.

Beijing + 15: the situation of older women

In 1995, Elizabeth Sclater attended the Beijing International Conference on Women. NGO participants were full of energy and included older women’s issues in their work. “Women of all ages” were mentioned several times in the Beijing Platform for Action.

Women around the world, both young and old, contribute every day to the economic growth of their country, even if they are doing unpaid work. Many women continue to work beyond retirement age. Often they suffer neglect, discrimination and abuse. Unfortunately, these facts are rarely mentioned and discussed, including during international meetings like the CSW.

What can NGOs do to change this situation? Elizabeth Sclater suggested that NGOs focusing on aging issues and those with a strong focus on women should collaborate at the international and national levels. International conventions or treaties should also be used to bring more visibility to older women. To increase the effectiveness of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women, NGOs are encouraging the CEDAW Committee to adopt a general recommendation on older women.

Elizabeth Sclater sees this as a major positive development for older women’s rights. Furthermore, when governments present their 4-year progress report to the Committee, NGOs representing older people should take the opportunity to work collaboratively on the national NGO shadow report, by including data, examples and analysis on the situation of older women in their country. The CEDAW process also allows for shadow reports on themed issues and HelpAge International has taken the lead in providing the Committee with reports on older women in Tanzania (2008) and at forthcoming CEDAW sessions.

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