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Invisible Victims - The Lack of Recognition on Violence Against Older Women

Social media has changed the way people access and receive information all over the world, and this has caused many positive side effects, like connecting different cultures, but one of the most peculiar effects is the new wave of popularization of philosophical movements, like feminism. With Twitter and Instagram filled with hashtags on “girl power” and how the “future is female”, topics like gender based violence and violence against women have become recurrent on the day-to-day agenda. However, many people who have access to such informations do not fully understand it.

To define gender-based violence as a form of discrimination exclusively associated with gender is to assume that every woman suffers the exact same type of discrimination solely because they are a woman, and that might be correct in some situations, yet such definition in itself is discriminatory, for it fails to consider all the women who are also a part of other minority groups. Intersectional Discrimination is when two or more forms of discrimination are combined, thus creating a specific new form of discrimination. [1]

Therefore, it is not realistic to compare violence against white women to the violence suffered by African-American women, indigenous women, refugee women, or, as I will further discuss on this blog, the violence suffered by elderly women. Thus, during the Ninth Working Session of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing one of the main discussions raised by civil society’s participants was the obstacles faced by older women due to their sex, but also their age.

Australia Ageing Agenda -

To further this discussion, a NGO known as Care Rights held a Side Event named “Age is no Protection: Gender Based Violence against older displaced persons, as well as older migrants and older women”, in which three female speakers descanted on the manner that older women face ageing and ageism in contrast to men, specially when those women are in more vulnerable circumstances, such as displacement and disabilities.

The focal point of the whole event was not about how older women can be discriminated due to their sex and age, but why gender-based violence and intimate partner violence is concealed when it comes to older people. The origin of it all might be the fact that data and statistics only cover women in the very restricted age gap of 15 to 49 years old - making data on older women’s issues virtually nonexistent. This means that even though they are responsible for the composition of at least a quarter of the world population [2], this particular group of women remains vastly unattended, unconsulted and unseen.

Such incident is perfectly illustrated by the World Health Organization 2013 research, in which 329 women were interviewed in order to collect data on domestic violence against women in a global perspective - of this number, only 66 women were older than 49 years of age. WHO justified the lack of inclusion based on other data researches that don’t usually include women over 49 years old. [3]

Unfortunately not being part of statistics is no protection for these women, for recent researches have revealed that women over 49 years of age are also victims of gender based violence and intimate partner violence (IPV).

In fact, older women remain susceptible to all forms of violence and abuse related to gender, and, as if it was not enough, violence and abuse due to their age. Essentially, in the Care Right’s event, panelists stressed how elderly women are particularly vulnerable in situations of property and inheritance rights, as well as situations of displacement.

Ben Small/ HelpAge International -

Initially, it was noted that older women are the first group to lose their autonomy and independence, especially widows, due to their lack of access to the land and rights of property - there are numerous cases in which close family members withdraw and chase away women from their land and assets after they lose their husbands. On a second note, panelist Bethany Brown, from Human Rights Watch, shared her experience with older women in a displacement situation. In this case, it was particularly interesting to note that those women, in a hostile environment, were disrobed of their humanity and used as resources, for instance, as Bethany narrated, older women were the group chosen to go and make contact with an unknown tribe and ended up being sexually assaulted, then when returning to their camp were discredited and laughed at.

Moreover, in many cases gender based violence against older women is often misclassified as elder abuse and that is manly because elder abuse itself is not properly classified. The most common definition of elder abuse regards the perpetuation or lack of actions, by a trusted caregiver, which results in harm or distress of an older person [4]. Nonetheless, such definition, other than extremely ample, does not consider systemic and structural violence, or possible perpetrators unknown or untrusted by the older person. [5]

Therefore, if society does not collectively shift the focus when it comes to collecting data on prevention and analysis of gender based violence, we will still be perpetuating discrimination against all women. Hence, by sustaining the target on women between the ages of 15 to 49 years old, we are classifying the value of a woman’s life by her capacity of procreation, in other worlds, by her capacity to attend the needs of men.

In conclusion, gender equality cannot be achieved until humanity is given back to older women so they can fully enjoy their rights. To learn more about ageing and the challenges faced by older people, please click in the link below and access all the reports made by HelpAge International.


[1] Sleap, Bridget Entitled to the Same Rights, HelpAge International, 2017, accessed on August 7, 2018.

[2] UNDESA, World Population Prospects, the 2017 Revision,

[3] WHO, Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women, 2013, page 16 http:// 9789241564625_eng.pdf

[4] “WHO” Elder Abuse Fact Sheet, accessed on August 07, 2018.

[5] Rossmann, M., & Sleep, B. (2017). HelpAge International: Violence Against Older Women. Retrieved August 7, 2018, from

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