Better protection needed for older women at risk of violence: campaigners

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Violence and abuse of older women is often going unchecked, the lack of data and effective legislation leaving them at risk, campaigners said on Wednesday as they called on the United Nations for stronger action to tackle the issue.

Research by HelpAge International – a group focused on promoting the rights of older people worldwide – has shown that women aged over 49 are often excluded from statistics on violence, leaving them “invisible”.

HelpAge urged the United Nations’ 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which opened in New York this week, to collect comprehensive data on violence, taking gender, age, and disability into account.

“Data on physical and sexual violence against women usually stops at age 49, effectively excluding a quarter of the world’s women,” Bridget Sleap, senior rights policy adviser at HelpAge International, said in a statement.

“When women reach age 50 any violence and abuse against them usually goes unrecorded.”

The group highlighted the U.N. global goals, adopted last year, one of which was to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

But indicators used to measure progress towards this goal were based mainly on women aged 15 to 49, focusing on eliminating female genital mutilation and ensuring women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.

A 2013 U.N. report titled ‘Neglect, Abuse, and Older Women’ acknowledged the “lack of visibility” of older women in discussions of violence.

The report identified emotional abuse as the most common form of violence against older women, followed by financial exploitation, violation of rights, sexual abuse, and physical abuse - with the spouse found to be the most common offender.

Similarly, a joint WHO-U.N. report surveying 133 countries found that only 17 percent reported having data on abuse of older women.

Although 59 percent of the countries surveyed said they had laws to prevent such abuse, only 30 percent said their laws were fully enforced.

One example of a national campaign designed to tackle the issue was Australia’s Norma’s Project, established in 2011 at La Trobe University in Melbourne, a study which exposed a startling number of sexual assaults on older women in Australia.

The project was set up in reaction to the case of 86-year-old Norma, who was sexually assaulted at a care home. No action was taken because of a lack of physical evidence and Norma’s dementia.

The study recommended mandatory licensing of care workers and a review of standards of care of the elderly to focus on prevention.