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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

AARP Statement to the 54th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-fourth Session- 1 - 13 March 2010

Priority Theme: Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and to the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of nearly 40 million members whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for women and men as we age. AARP has collaborated with the United Nations (UN) for more than 35 years by participating in major conferences and helping to forge an international constituency on aging. Since its founding in 1958, AARP has served as a key source of global information and advocacy on issues affecting aging populations, and strengthened the network of advocates who believe that everyone should age with dignity and purpose.

AARP is pleased to participate in the 54th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. AARP commends the UN on the initiatives it has undertaken over the years to advance the rights and interests of women around the world, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform of Action (BPFA), the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, the and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Yet, much remains to be done. If the promise of these landmark agreements is to be fully realized, governments must step up efforts to implement them, and this requires more political will, resources, and follow-through than are presently on the table. Time is of the essence, particularly for older women across the planet.

We have now entered the second decade of what is being called the "century of aging," the dimensions of which are well known. Among the most daunting projections are these: by 2045, for the first time in history, the global population of people 60 and over will exceed the number of children. By 2050, 22 out of every 100 people will be over 60, up from only 8 out of every 100 people in 1950. And, by 2050, one in five people in developing countries will be over 60.

Yet, the implications of this dramatic demographic transition for older women are not as well known, even 15 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Their prospects for better health, economic security, legal protections, and freedom from violence, among other basic necessities - are far from clear.

The principal significance of the Beijing process for older women was that it recognized age discrimination as a barrier to their empowerment and advancement. The Declaration also highlighted factors that continue to make older women vulnerable throughout the life-course - poverty, poor health, domestic violence, labor inequality, and armed conflict. While the concerns of older women around the world are generally not considered to have been a priority of the Beijing deliberations, it is fair to state that they were at least pulled from the shadows and acknowledged, to some degree.

As well, with major demographic shifts on the horizon, the Declaration and Platform of Action made prescient calls for: 1) more age-disaggregated data to better assess the disposition of older women; and 2) government actions aimed at mitigating the threats to their well-being. Two fundamental questions before this Commission are one, whether the international community now has - 15 years post-Beijing - a better understanding of the contexts in which older women live, and two, to what extent older women and population aging are priorities going forward.

A perpetual problem that has bedeviled efforts to address issues related to older women is the sheer dearth of information about them and on them - information that could form the basis of public policies designed to support their interests and needs. Global statistics do provide us with a useful but rough portrait of older women as a population segment, but they also "mask the very different contexts in which older women live," as the 2008 Recommendation on the adoption of a General recommendation on the rights of older women submitted to CEDAW has noted.

For example, we know that older women (19%) are more likely to live alone than older men (8%). We know that more men (80%) over 60 are married than women (48%) over 60. We know that twice as many men (40%) over 60 are in the labor force as women (20%) over 60. And, we know that older women continue to live longer than older men.

What we do not know, however, is what these numbers and trends mean from country to country. This information void is a systemic problem that continues to jeopardize the security of millions of older women around the world. In many countries, the lack of information is so abysmal for older women that basic identification documentation to access entitlements and social protections is unobtainable.

A 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) Report, Women and health: today's evidence, tomorrow's agenda, commented directly on the systemic nature of the information void with regard to health, noting that: "The foundations of better information about women and health need to be strengthened, including cause of death by age and sex - and collection and use of sex-disaggregated data on common problems."

There are some reasons for optimism with respect to designating older women as a future priority issue area. For one, MDG #3 and #5 stand as age-neutral approaches for addressing the basic causes of women's disempowerment. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing has raised awareness of aging and its gender implications, and charted pathways toward greater empowerment. Older women's rights have been singled out with the CEDAW decision to develop a specific recommendation on the rights of older women, referenced above. This is a promising initiative that could permanently enshrine these rights into international law.

As an organization with a special interest in strengthening social protections that enable older women to enjoy greater economic security and healthier lives, AARP hopes to see more robust actions on the part of governments aimed at meeting their commitments to women. With the increase in life expectancy and rising numbers of older women, their health concerns require particular attention. And as older women continue to take on disproportionate work burdens to support their families and communities, the considerable obstacles they face in securing wage, benefit and pension equality must be addressed.

It is clear that governments do indeed have much to do to improve prospects for empowerment and advancement of women as they age, particularly at a time when population aging is having an impact on the ways societies provide for their citizens. AARP encourages the Commission to build on the momentum of the MDGs and continue to raise awareness about the special needs and concerns of older women. We thank you for convening this critical session.


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