As member states and NGOs are gathering at the UN in New York for the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), HelpAge International and its partners are calling for universal social protection for vulnerable older women.
Around the world, women are more likely than men to live in poverty throughout their lives, to be disempowered socially and economically, and have their rights denied. Most of the world's older women struggle to survive and feed their families on very low incomes. They also greatly contribute to communities and economies through their work and care, which is often unrecognised and unpaid.
Increasingly, governments are moving towards universal non-contributory social pensions and there is growing evidence that these are an effective and affordable solution, especially in countries with high levels of poverty and informal employment. They enhance women's economic autonomy, strengthen their voicethe and agency, and can be an effective way of recognising the value of unpaid work.
In Asia Pacific, the rising number of older women has accentuated the importance of strengthening the systems of social pension in the region. In many countries in Asia, social pensions have made a particularly notable contribution to expanding coverage of pensions to women, for example, as in Thailand, women are more likely than men to receive a social pension (women 17 per cent, men 12.2 per cent).
"Women are more likely to work in the informal sector than men and be responsible for caregiving and domestic work, which reduces their ability to save money for their later years and to access formal pensions. This challenge can be addressed through introduction of a universal social pension. Evidence from Asia and the Pacific region shows that social pensions are affordable for low- and middle-income countries, and they bring many positive changes to the lives of older people and their families, particularly older women," said Usa Khiewrord at HelpAge International.
In 2020, the global population aged over 60 will reach 1 billion, and is projected to double again by 2050. By then, nearly two-third of the world's older people – close to 1.3 billion – are projected to be living in Asia Pacific. Growth is most rapid in low- and middle-income countries, with far-reaching implications that governments need to address.
Justin Derbyshire, chief executive of HelpAge International, said: "Evidence from many countries shows how the introduction of universal social protection systems can not only improve older women's wellbeing and dignity but also prevent and reduce poverty, inequality and social exclusion in society.
“This year could mark a major milestone on the journey towards universal social protection for women of all ages, and a sustainable future for all. At CSW this week, we are calling on member states to make progress on this commitment."