Elderly women face discrimination, abuse: HelpAge India report

Calls for awareness and policy support for dignified living of older women

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Geetanjali Minhas | June 15, 2023 | Mumbai


#Society   #women   #elderly  


As many as 16% older women in India faced abuse, out of which half (50%) faced physical abuse. Disrespect (46%) as well as emotional and psychological abuse (40%) are the other abuses faced by older women, according to the HelpAge India National 2023 report, ‘Women & Ageing: Invisible or Empowered?’

40% women said the main perpetrators of abuse were their sons and 27% said their daughters-in-law were the perpetrator. 26% older women faced abuse by spouse and  31% by relatives. Of those surveyed 5% elderly said they have faced violence as young women.

The report, released on the eve of ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’, is a first of its kind report focusing only on older women with a sample size of 7,911 respondents.

It finds that despite facing abuse, most older women did not report it due to ‘fear of retaliation or further abuse’ (18%) being the top reason. 16% of those surveyed are not aware of available resources while 13% think their concerns would not be taken seriously.

56% older women lacked awareness on redressal mechanisms available for abuse. Only 15% are aware of the Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act and 79% older women are not aware of any government welfare schemes. Lack of information on schemes and their benefits (86%),difficulty in understanding application process(54%), inaccessible scheme locations (54%) were the challenges and difficulties faced in  applying for and availing  government welfare schemes. 56% elderly said the  government should come out with special schemes for elderly and 79% said there should be better accessibility to government offices and schemes.

In terms of perception on elder abuse, 57% said they are aware of prevalence of elder abuse in society. 38% said disrespect, 25% - beating and slapping, 32%- verbal abuse(shouting, insulting), 15% -economic exploitation, 11%-unwelcome sexual contact, 29% said neglect/abandonment were the different forms of abuse prevalent in society.

96% respondents are between 60-80 years. 81% older women live with their families, 54% were illiterate (59% urban, 66% - rural) , 54% older women were married  and 43% older women were widowed.

As per the 2020 ‘Population Projections for India and States Report’ and the demographic shifts, there is a distinct ‘feminization of ageing’ that is taking place due to rapid rise in ageing population and women living longer. While the gender ratio for overall population is 948 females for 1000 males, the ratio in elderly is 1065 (more females in elderly population) which further increases with age.

The survey found that older women’s social status only further added to their woes. 18% of older women stated having faced discrimination due to their gender, 64% faced social discrimination due to their marital status i.e., widowed and 72% older women are not able to take decisions for themselves
On the economic front, 66% older women in India do not own any assets, 75% older women do not have any savings. 53% of the older women do not feel financially secure. Of the 47% who ‘do’ feel secure, 79% are dependent on their children for finances.

Further, 51% of the older women have reported being ‘never’ employed and 74% are not working. 32% older women want to work for as long as possible, 47% of the older women who are working, said that they do not find their environment at home friendly towards work, 36% of the older women who are working, say the same for their environment at their workplace. Nearly 70% of the older women have reported a lack of adequate and accessible employment opportunities.

60% older women have never used digital devices and 59% older women not own smartphones. 52% are not aware of social media platforms. 13% older women said they would like to enroll for some online skill development program and 24% older women consider time spent by their children as not enough.
In terms of health 48% of older women have at least one chronic condition, yet 64% older women have reported not having any health insurance. 67% older women still undertake caregiving roles in their families, while 36% older women are not able to manage the burden of caregiving.
 
12% elderly women don’t feel safe and secure in neighbourhood area. 43% Elderly women worry of getting physically harmed. Fear of falling (55%), injury due to weak eyesight (61%) and uneven or slippery surfaces (56%)  were the concerns expressed by older women for getting hurt.   

High cost of medical care or attention (71%), lack of healthcare providers in area(53%) and lack of awareness about available healthcare(51%) were the difficulties faced while getting treatment in older age.

The report recommends prioritizing coverage of older women under health insurance schemes and programs, enabling support and assistance in caregiving through alternate options e.g., community care, financial assistance for market-based services, measures to increase and enable economic participation/employment of women as they age, undertaking capacity building efforts to raise employability/skills (e.g., through use of digital/technology and others), promoting elder friendly work environment with support systems and policies (e.g. flexible arrangements, suitable jobs), raising awareness of elder women on importance of digital technology and social wellbeing and implementing workshops on usage of digital devices through old age homes, RWAs, offices, religious institutions etc. for older women.

It also calls for encouraging seeking of professional medical, legal, and financial aid among older women and caregivers if required and to establish and promote volunteer based first response teams in societies to ensure immediate aid in case of abuse. It suggests more outreach and awareness campaigns to know about the exact provisions and how to get benefits, simplified application procedures for various welfare schemes and under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, better accessibility to government offices for quick redress, increase the penalties for noncompliance under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act as well as public- private partnerships for effective interaction with the state machinery.

“It is a stark reality that women, as they become older, tend to become neglected and are often invisible. Women aged 60 plus comprise 11% of the total women population (7 crore of 66 crore) in 2021 and it will become 14% by 2031 (10 crore of 72 crore). Most are defined by the traditional roles they play in their families and communities which are often taken for granted. Their needs are often overlooked and contributions go unrecognized. Some areas for urgent response are raising awareness about government welfare schemes, greater priority in pension, healthcare and economic participation programs, special schemes for elderly women and recourse to redressal mechanisms for elder abuse,” says Rohit Prasad, CEO, HelpAge India.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos Research Private Limited across urban and rural areas of 20 states, two UTs and five metros including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal.

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