The United Nations commemorated the October 1 International Day of Older Persons by asking the world to recognize the value of senior women. At age 73, the UN’s Secretary-General is proof that older people can make significant contributions to worldwide efforts to solve problems that affect people of all ages.
The UN created the International Day of Older Persons “to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities of ageing populations around the world.” The theme of the 2022 celebration is the “Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World.” Speakers in cities around the world called for the inclusion of older people in task forces, private projects, and government agencies that address climate change, environmental disaster, pandemic responses, affordable housing shortages, economic and social inequality, sustainable development, and other issues that affect older and younger people alike.
The Resilience of Older Women
Speakers at UN programs this year focused on the resilience of older women. Women continue to provide the majority of caregiving, often sacrificing their own incomes to provide unpaid assistance to family members. Older women were typically the first to be laid off during the pandemic and are more likely than men to be viewed as a burden by younger family members. Women are also disproportionately likely to be victims of elder abuse.
Despite the adversity they face, older women play important roles in families beyond their caregiving. They tend to be peacemakers who resolve family conflicts. Their history of overcoming challenges and remaining grounded in a value system provides a model for younger family members to emulate.
Older women often extend themselves to others, both within and outside the family. Research suggests that providing emotional support and volunteering their time to others gives older women “meaning and purpose in life and a sense of belonging.”
Older women adapt to the physical challenges of aging by strengthening their family and social bonds and by resolving to move forward with life, undeterred by their limitations. Their curiosity about the world often leads women to new discoveries later in live, including the development of artistic talent, exploring new interests, and nourishing a love of reading and writing.
As the British Geriatrics Society notes, women tend to live longer than men, but spend a greater proportion of their lives coping with ill-health and disability. Since “the health and care system has historically been designed by men and for men,” resilience is a necessary response to gender inequality and discrimination as women age.
The World Health Organization agrees that, while “older women continue to meaningfully contribute to social and cultural life, their contributions and experiences remain mostly invisible, often limited by gendered disadvantages accumulated throughout the life course, which can also impact older women’s access to quality, integrated health care.” The WHO suggests that healthcare providers should be better trained to address the specific needs of older persons. The organization also advocates for increased access to quality long-term care that will help older people maintain quality of life and functional ability and live with dignity.
Beyond issues of healthcare, UN speakers emphasized the importance of giving older women a voice. Given their experience as problem solvers, older women can offer important perspectives to policymakers and legislators. Older women have often experienced sexism and ageism, placing them in a strong position to articulate solutions to discrimination.
Society can ease the burden of caregiving by recognizing the need to help caregivers. Providing financial assistance or subsidizing paid caregivers would allow older women to continue their careers or to replace the income they lose when they assume a caregiving role.
Older women can empower themselves in many ways. Exercise, a healthy diet, social interaction, and mental stimulation all help older individuals maintain their physical and mental health. Delaying retirement or finding volunteer work helps older people remain active.
Yet society as a whole must recognize the importance of its older members. As Barbara Morris said at age 88, “It’s ridiculous that women get to my age and they’re gone.” The International Day of Older Persons calls attention to the importance of seeing and hearing older people, of giving them a voice in family, business, and governmental decisions.