Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why are older persons not addressed in the Millennium Development Goals?

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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

“Grandmother to Grandmother: New York to Tanzania”

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, AARP and the Fordham University Ravazzin Center on Aging hosted a Film Screening: “Grandmother to Grandmother: New York to Tanzania.”

The film documentary features the lives of grandmothers raising orphaned grandchildren in New York City and also in Tanzania. While seemingly worlds apart, these grandmothers came together in Tanzania and realizeed that their challenges and experiences were very much the same. The film highlights aging as a gendered experience, and the cultural life course trends that converge to create additional vulnerabilities in the lives of older women.

Globally, grandparents are increasingly raising their orphaned grandchildren. Parents are dying due to HIV/AIDs, drugs and violence. Grandmothers, already one of the most vulnerable group in terms of poverty, are relied upon to take care for children without adequate means.

One panelist stated that this global issue is gaining recognition across the world. In New York City, in particular, some low-income housing is designated for grandparents raising grandchildren on $10,000/year or below. The facility provides evening programs, counseling and building security. Grandmothers attend support group meetings that help them adjust to their new task as a primary caregiver and also to express their concerns with a supportive audience. One woman said, “I realize there are others just like me and I don’t have to be ashamed that my child wasn’t able to raise his child”.

A panel of experts on this global trend from New York and Tanzania also spoke. Rimas J. Jasin, Executive Director of Presbyterian Senior Services, discussed New York City’s attempts to alleviate poverty among grandparents raising grandchildren in some of the city’s most at-risk neighborhoods.

While discussing the slow evolution of social change and the changes necessary to strengthen the human rights of older persons, Modest J. Mero, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations said that “Development is a gradual process.”