The EU has a critical role in empowering marginalised older women

Enrique Guerrero / Oct 2016

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Gender inequality is widely recognised as a barrier to women’s empowerment in both the developing and developed world. The fact there is a specific goal on gender equality in the Sustainable Development Goals, and the mainstreaming of gender throughout the 17 goals reflects the strong focus on girls and women of all ages in global sustainable development worldwide.

Yet this focus, coupled with the commitment to leave no one behind, must consider the specific needs of older women. This is a demographic that is subjected to age discrimination in addition to the gender-based discrimination they have experienced throughout life. The two intersect in later life and lead to severe marginalisation of older women, greatly hindering development efforts.

Already 23.6% of the world’s female population are aged 50 or over, and rapid population ageing across the world means we can expect this proportion to grow. If all countries are to honour the commitments made in Agenda 2030, the situation of older women cannot be overlooked.

Recently I hosted an event at the European Parliament with the HelpAge EU network to mark International Day of Older Persons. I was alarmed to hear stories of the shocking violence older women face as a result of witchcraft accusations and other injustices in Tanzania. Through EU-funded projects, older women are learning about their human rights for the first time and receiving legal advice and access to justice for these atrocities.

Gender equality is a fundamental value enshrined in the EU’s core legislative frameworks, both within the EU itself and in its external actions. Its Gender Action Plan 2016-2020 commits to supporting gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women of all ages. Through the implementation of this plan, the EU is well positioned to make a valuable contribution to the realisation of the SDGs.

Nevertheless, the woeful lack of data for older age groups and the lack of evidence relating to gender issues in later life acts as a significant barrier to implementing these EU and global frameworks effectively. Surveys on violence against women, for example, do not collect data on women aged 50 and above. It means around a third of a woman’s life is invisible.

In terms of humanitarian action, ECHO recognises that the impact of crises is neither gender nor age-neutral and that, to ensure aid is effective, humanitarian assistance must address the specific needs of each subset of the population through the implementation of the Gender-Age Marker.

This is a tool to assess the level to which humanitarian interventions are sensitive to gender and age. It recognises that age cannot be treated in isolation from gender in the assessment, implementation and monitoring of humanitarian interventions, and this is an important step forward in the EU’s external policy.

The EU and its member states must use all the tools available to them in order to ensure the effective implementation of the commitments made on gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women of all ages in its external action.

The work to revise the current European Consensus on Development, the guiding policy framework for the EU’s development cooperation, presents an opportunity to set out even more ambitious goals to build on those included in the Gender Action Plan 2016-2020.

In doing so, the EU can be a true global champion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in sustainable development, ensuring that nobody, regardless of their age or gender, is left behind.




Enrique Guerrero

Enrique Guerrero

October 2016

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