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Older women: the hidden workforce

Globally, older women in all their diversity are contributing unrecognised yet critical support to their families, communities and economies through their paid and unpaid work. In poorer countries, they carry out this work with little or no choice over what they do, and often without support or recognition. 

Age International’s new report “Older Women: the hidden workforce” listens and gives voice to older women’s experience of work in Ethiopia and Malawi and sets it within a wider context of the economic challenges facing older women in low and middle-income countries. The report sets out recommendations for how the UK Government and its partners can help to address this inequality.

Older women: the hidden workforce

We listened to the lived experiences of older women and know that the work they do is varied and vital yet lower paid and undervalued, and often including pressure from others to give extra time for caring and community work. We’re calling for their voices to be heard and their needs to be met.

Sign our petition  

The UK Government is in the process of deciding a new International Development Strategy that will guide its work until 2030. We’ve launched a Parliamentary Petition asking the UK Government to include older women in the Strategy and address the specific barriers older women experience, and to show them that there is public support for doing more to help older people in low and middle-income countries.

The UK government must include older women in the new International Development Strategy

Across the globe older women, especially in the poorest countries, are facing systemic failures and being let down by their governments and societies daily. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sign our petition now and call on the UK Government to take older women into account.

The hidden workforce

The global COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inequalities and ageism that older women and men face in societies, as well as bringing to the fore the importance of care work and the unequal role of women in shouldering this work.

Many women, especially in lower-income countries, reach old age with few assets and savings and no access to a pension or any other kind state benefits. They contribute greatly to the economy through both paid and unpaid care and domestic work, yet the work they do is not valued by their communities and is consistently overlooked by policymakers.

This timely report from Age International shines a light on the experiences of older women across the globe, highlighting the vital contributions they continue to make through their paid and unpaid work, often in challenging conditions, facing double discrimination, not only on basis of gender but also on basis of age.

It is imperative that older women are supported to access decent work opportunities, and  pensions, and that their voices are heard in the processes that shape public policy.

Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor University of Essex

The report features in-depth interviews with older women and their communities in Malawi and Ethiopia, and highlights the multiple barriers many face when accessing their rights – including decent work and income security – due to ageism, sexism and power structures in their local communities and wider society.

Current strategies do not adequately recognise the roles of older women across the globe, who carry out relentless work with little or no choice, and often without support. Although these older women make substantial contributions when it comes to paid work and unpaid care and domestic work for their families, communities and economies, the low status they hold in their communities means many do not get the support they need to live in better health and with dignity. The report shows how older women are vital to their communities, households, and economies; as grandmothers, mothers, neighbours, volunteers, workers and carers but also as women – and human beings – in their own right.

Recommendations

The Sustainable Development Goals include commitments to achieve gender equality and “leave no one behind”, but these cannot be met without a greater focus on the rights and contributions of older women. Campaigns such as Generation Equality and efforts to deliver on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals must consider older women in all their diversity, challenge damaging assumptions about older women and men, and adopt a life course approach in all public policy and development programmes relating to economic justice. 

The report sets out a ten-point action plan for the UK Government and its partners to help achieve this. 

Why must we act now?

Action must be taken, within the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, to ensure current and future generations of older women live in dignity and continue to contribute in the ways that matter to them; ensuring that they work out of choice rather than for survival or according to decisions made by others.

Older women:the hidden workforce

We listened to the lived experiences of older women and know that the work they do is varied and vital yet lower paid and undervalued, and often including pressure from others to give extra time for caring and community work. We’re calling for their voices to be heard and their needs to be met.

Hearing older women's voices

Author of the report and Age International Policy Advisor Kate Horstead explains how the research behind the report was designed to centre and amplify older women's voices. 

Read her insights

Older women contribute so much to society

Academic expert on gender and development, Diane Elson, who wrote the foreword to our report, sat down with us to discuss why older women's economic rights are so important.

Check out the interview

5 things you need to know about older women’s work

For our report, Older women: the hidden workforce we’ve listened to the voices of older women across the globe, including Ethiopia and Malawi, who work tirelessly for their communities and families. 

This is what they need you to know

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