Why improving women’s lives is the key to healthy ageing

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Bjorn Andersson, Asia-Pacific Regional Director, United Nations Population Fund


• COVID-19 has disproportionately affected older people – both directly and indirectly.

• The Asia-Pacific region is currently grappling with the effect of population ageing.

• Focusing on women’s education and health is a key way of dealing with population ageing.

In a relatively short time, COVID-19 has devastated the lives of millions globally. For hundreds of millions more the toll wrought by the pandemic could have lasting effects for decades.

Perhaps one of the most cunning aspects of this virus is the harm it inflicts on older persons who face multiple and compounding threats, including being physically more vulnerable; at greater peril of the impacts of social isolation; and at significant risk from the grave and likely long-lasting socio-economic shocks of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has proven to be acutely dangerous for people with underlying health conditions, ranging from diabetes and asthma, to cardiac disease and cancer. A disproportionate death rate is seen among older persons in most countries. Beyond physical health, the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on older persons – and women in particular – in terms of psychosocial health and economic well-being.

Women among the ‘oldest old’

In the Asia-Pacific region, these impacts are particularly acute, adding to the existing challenges of grappling with accelerating population ageing – something to bear in mind on 1 October, the International Day of Older Persons. Asia-Pacific is currently home to over half the world’s population over 60 years of age. Globally, the number of older persons is expected to surpass 2 billion by 2050. By then, nearly two-thirds of the world’s older people – close to 1.3 billion – will be in Asia-Pacific, with one in four people over age 60.

Women, who generally outlive men, currently constitute the majority – some 54% – of older persons in Asia-Pacific, but represent an even greater majority, 61%, of the “oldest old” population of 80 years and over.

Globally, the number of older persons is expected to surpass 2 billion by 2050
Globally, the number of older persons is expected to surpass 2 billion by 2050 Image: WHO

Key to healthy ageing

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, elderly women in a majority of Asia-Pacific countries were facing significant challenges, exacerbated by the fact that many societies have been moving from traditional, nuclear family-oriented patterns to far more fluid, fragmented structures.

The result has been that many older women, with a higher tendency to live alone, face poverty and are more likely to lack family and other forms of support. The majority of older people do not have reliable and sustained access to a caregiver. Facing non-existent or only minimal safety nets, many have already slid into poverty during the pandemic or are on the cusp of doing so.

The pandemic has brought into acute focus the urgent need for both governments and civil society to address the complex demographic shift of population ageing with strategic solutions and programmes. To do so successfully, we need a life-cycle approach to healthy ageing, with particular emphasis on girls and women, firmly grounded in gender equality and human rights.

The case of an isolated widow

To unpack this, let us consider a woman in her 70s in the small village where she was born and raised. As with so many of her generation, she was made to marry early, with minimum education. She had children early, pregnancies were unplanned, childbirth was risky. Her husband, many years older, died a long while ago, leaving her a widow, unprepared to enter the workforce or properly fend for herself. Her children left the village for the city, adding to her isolation. This is the scenario many older women now face – with the added risks, burdens and effects of COVID-19.

Asia countries' populations are ageing fastest
Asia countries’ populations are ageing fastest Image: WHO

But imagine if, as an adolescent, this woman had been able to take that other branch of the road: completing school and higher education; achieving gainful employment; marrying as an adult and of her own choice; having healthy children and being able to invest in their well-being; and, ultimately, enjoying a secure old age.

‘Longevity dividend’

If addressed in a holistic way and underpinned by better policies, more resilient social systems and gender equality, the lives of older people, especially women, can be improved significantly. This would also allow societies to harness the valuable experience and knowledge of older persons as they age – reaping a “longevity dividend” from healthy, active older people who can continue their engagement in family and community.

In fact, the commitment to create a better world in an ageing society has already been articulated by the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. This agreement commends the development of evidence-based policies that help build “a society for all ages”. In addition, the landmark Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population on Development (ICPD), as well as the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the basis of this approach to healthy ageing.

We must collectively now prioritize greater action, funding and implementation.

Within the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), our mandate clearly incorporates the need to enable and strengthen the self-reliance of older persons including women, enabling their participation for the benefit of both society and themselves. The ICPD Programme of Action is our foundation, and our guiding principle.

As the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, we are increasingly seeing countries turning to us for advice and assistance on issues of population ageing. UNFPA is committed to helping governments in full partnership with civil society and communities.

This year, 2020, launches the Decade of Healthy Ageing as well as the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs. As Asia-Pacific, with the rest of the world, seeks to “build back better” from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, let us seize this moment to transform the challenge of population ageing into opportunity. We must translate gender equality and human rights into practical strategies and approaches that ensure no older woman will ever be left behind.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Migration crisis will keep deteriorating as common EU political will is simply not there

As Libya talks resume in Geneva, UN negotiator seeks to overcome sticking points

COP21 Breaking News_12 December: 195 countries adopt the First Universal Climate Agreement

IMF: Sorry Greece, Ireland, Portugal we were wrong!

Google succumbs unconditionally to EU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling

Weak growth of G20 international merchandise trade in third quarter of 2018

Livelihoods of millions in East and Southeast Asia at risk from Swine Fever epidemic

EU seeks foreign support on 5G from Mobile World Congress 2015 as the “digital gold rush” begins

Impact Investment needs global standards and better measurement

Restore land to save the planet, boost the economy, says head of UN body combating desertification

Mergers: Commission clears Vodafone’s acquisition of Liberty Global’s cable business in Czechia, Germany, Hungary and Romania, subject to conditions

‘Everyone must be on board’ for peace in Central African Republic: UN’s Lacroix

UN committed to helping Haiti build better future, says Guterres, marking 10-year anniversary of devastating earthquake

Gender equality: an issue much talked about but less acted upon

From philanthropy to profit: how clean energy is kickstarting sustainable development in East Africa

Entrepreneurship’s key to success showcased by a serial young entrepreneur

Project Manager – 2024

This simple digital solution could streamline global travel and boost trade during COVID – here’s how

European Citizens’ Initiative: A game of much publicity and one big lie

The eyes of Brazil and the world turn to the largest rainforest and largest biodiversity reserve on Earth #PrayForAmazonia.

The US and EU decisively oppose Erdogan’s plans for Turkey and beyond

This US city sends mental health workers instead of police to non-criminal emergency calls

INTERVIEW: ‘Defend the people, not the States’, says outgoing UN human rights chief

These are the top countries for travel and tourism in 2019

The smartest cyber investment is collective action. Here’s why

US and China in painstaking efforts to conclude trade talks

Digital was our lifeline in 2020, and we are more positive about it since

‘Don’t forget Madagascar’s children’, UN appeals for long-term help as emergency worsens

The US Congress and European Parliament vote are TTIP’s 10th round’s lucky cards

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Diplomacy for Peace Day, #VaccinesWork, the cost of war on Afghans, tech and well-being

Climate change hits the poor hardest. Mozambique’s cyclones prove it

EU commits €9 million in humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable families in Myanmar

Republic of Korea President proposes DMZ as future ‘peace and cooperation district’ on Peninsula

UN leads bid for cheaper insulin, expanding access for diabetics worldwide

Europe’s dirty air kills 400,000 people every year

Commission’s report shows that targeted investment and robust digital policies boost Member States’ performance

The gender gap of medicine in 2018

Telemedicine during the pandemic: its benefits and limitations

Telemedicine can be a COVID-19 game-changer. Here’s how

Trade MEPs promise thorough scrutiny of the EU-UK agreement

Visa liberalisation: Commission reports on fulfilment of visa-free requirements by Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries

Tomorrow’s UK general election: Will Tories win majority to shoot an abrupt Brexit or a hung parliament will prolong January’s exit to 2050?

This man ran across the USA to raise awareness of plastic pollution

5 ways to fast-track the transition to a carbon neutral world

Don’t let smoking steal life’s breathtaking moments, urges UN health agency

Security Council marks transition from 15 years of UN peacekeeping in Haiti

Latest leaked TTIP document confirms EU sovereignty may be under threat

Safer roads: More life-saving technology to be mandatory in vehicles

Monday’s Daily Brief: ‘Horror’ at Notre Dame fire disaster, Yemen still bleeding, measles now ‘global crisis’

COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic on 4 January

Somalia advancing towards ‘inclusive and peaceful future’ for women, deputy UN chief

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

Egypt is building one of the world’s largest solar parks

These are the cities with the biggest carbon footprints

Entrepreneurial leadership: what does it take to become a leader?

From low-earth orbit, ‘envoys’ of humanity join UN space forum

COP21 Breaking News_10 December: the final sprint of the Final Agreement Negotiations

How studying genetics and lifestyle can shape a healthier MENA region

Zero carbon by 2050 is possible. Here is what we need to do

Myanmar military target civilians in deadly helicopter attack, UN rights office issues war crimes warning

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s