Take care of her - Asma Akbar - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=34867&Cat=9

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “Women nearly everywhere are living longer than men. They face a higher risk of chronic illness and disability, discrimination and marginalisation”

This year March 8 the theme of International Women’s Day is: “Equal access to education, training, science and technology - pathway to decent work for women”. However, along with the importance of access it appears to be extremely important that we understand the concerns of women not only from the gender balance and equal rights perspective but also cater to the feminine experience.

The IWD is an important platform to recognise and mainstream older women’s contribution – the silent strength and workforce participation that remain forgotten and many times not recognised in the fast phase young force vision of development.

The gendered nature of ageing reveals that women tend to live longer than men, and that a large number of older women live alone than men. In Pakistan, large numbers of Pakistani women over the age of 50 years are widows because they are married to relatively older men. Men often remarry if they lose a spouse but women do not. The current UN figures estimate that by 2050, 22 per cent of the population will be older persons and that the majority of these older persons will be women. The figures also revealed that 75 per cent of older women would be living in developing countries. This population structure has profound social, cultural and economic implications.

In Pakistan, older people live with their extended families. Despite the strains on the traditional support systems caused by migration and urbanisation, the social expectation is that the family will take care of their older members. But if this was completely true, why do we have increasing numbers of old homes in Pakistan? Government programmes like Benazir Income Support Program, zakat, pensions, should be such a well knitted structured that these funds provide services to older people (especially women) with dignity. Widowhood, poverty, illiteracy, childlessness, social isolation and displacement, put older women at risk of physical, verbal abuse and neglect.

Women often suffer more from chronic diseases that may not be life threatening, but disabling. Health care delivery is generally geared more towards acute care, and often ignores the needs of older women who might benefit more from home healthcare than hospitalisation. Postmenopausal difficulties and absence of geriatric medicine and health prohibit older women from quality life.

Older women have always made an important contribution – as caregiver, counsellors, mentors, confidants, and grandparents or great-grandparents. While their contributions remain significant, the situation of many older women, especially the poor and disadvantaged, has remained bad. Mainstreaming older women can be done though “grandparents programmes” or by establishing wisdom banks, where older women are contributors of wisdom and not as hurdles to care and disputers to modern practices.

There are certain recommendations to challenge these stereotypes in our society. Media, education and advertising should be used to combat damaging stereotypes and recognise and promote the contributions of older women in our society.

Improve living conditions and economic security of older women – through legislation and programmes that ensure that older women can get jobs, fair pay, and access to credit, equal inheritance rights, and eliminate discrimination in pension schemes.

Improve older women’s well-being and health status – by educating health-care providers to recognise and address the specific needs of older women, and providing mental health services and access to in-home assistance services.

Promote lifelong learning for women – by providing training and re-training to equip older women.

The writer is the country director of HelpAge International Pakistan Program.

Email: asma.akbar@helpAge.org.pk

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