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Women and Ageing

The worldwide phenomenon of a burgeoning elderly population has become a matter of concern for both practitioners and policy makers. While in 1950, the world population aged 60 years and above was 205 million (8.2 per cent of the population), by 2050 the proportion is projected to rise to 21.1 per cent, which will be around 2 billion.1 The trend is even more pronounced in Asian countries, home to 53 per cent of the world’s elderly population. This proportion is going to rise in the next 50 years and by 2050, 82 per cent of the world’s elderly will be in the developing regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean while only 16 per cent of them will reside in the developed regions of Europe and North America.2 According to UN estimates, India itself will be home to 230 million people over 60 years of age within the next two years, more than three times the number in 2010.

This poses a serious challenge as the older population is more vulnerable due to ill health, poor socio-economic status, lack of economic security and proper living arrangements. The vulnerability of the aged is aggravated in developing countries by rapid industrialization, urbanization and a recent shift from the joint family system to nuclear families. This has a huge impact on the psychological and emotional health of the elderly, leading to conflict, neglect, lack of respect and sometimes abuse and exploitation.4

While the elderly face a number of challenges, the situation is worse for elderly women. Women face bias and discrimination through their life and most of the time they either succumb to it or do not raise their voices against it. The Global Report on Ageing in the 21st Century reinforces the observations made in India that older persons, particularly older women, experience multiple discriminations, including access to jobs and health care, abuse, denial of the right to own and inherit property, and lack of basic minimum income and social security (UNFPA & HelpAge International, 2012).5 Demographically as well, women constitute a larger share of the elderly population. Estimates show that worldwide, for every 100 women aged 60 and above, there are only 84 men.

Hence, there is a need to mainstream the issues of elderly women amongst all stakeholders like non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), women’s movements, Government Departments, corporate social responsibility (CSR) bodies and corporate foundations for developing sensitive policies and programs to provide pensions, housing, social security cover etc.

The South Asia Forum for Aged Women- (India Chapter)

The International Conference on ‘Ageing Women: Critical Challenges and Concerns’ was organized in New Delhi from 26-28 August 2013 by Stree Shakti – The Parallel Force with the support of HelpAge India and UNDP India. More than 70 distinguished persons including representatives of the Government, Planning Commission, UNDP and various women’s groups, academics and other NGO representatives from four countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal attended the conference.

Delegates at the conference recognized the need to address the challenges faced by elderly women in South Asia. At the end of the conference, the delegates unanimously agreed to work towards the following goals:

  • Take up the cause of older women waiting patiently for years for supportive action
  • Develop deeper understanding of the status of older women, country-wise
  • Identify good practices
  • Influence government policies
  • Strengthen linkages between groups from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

As an outcome of the conference, The South Asia Forum for Aged Women (SAFAW) was launched jointly by the delegates and “age care” specialists from participating countries to work towards the above mentioned outcomes.

Stree Shakti – The Parallel Force initiated the India Chapter of the South Asia Forum for Aged Women with support from UNFPA. Starting November 2013, the Forum in India has been concentrating on advocating for aged women’s issues and concerns with women’s groups, CSR bodies and corporate foundations, government and relevant agencies. A series of regional conferences and interactive meetings were organized in New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Kolkata in order to spread awareness for the cause (Refer to page 56 for more details on the conferences).

One of the main goals of the Forum was to document, publish and disseminate good practices on women and ageing in order to make them visible and accessible. The India Chapter therefore, decided to publish this document with case studies exhibiting good practices of organisations working with elderly women. These case studies relate to implementation of a policy or to provision of services like healthcare, housing, care-giving, income security, rights and entitlements and any other work related to women’s empowerment that prepares elderly women to deal with challenges during the latter part of their lives.

Objectives of the Documentation

One of the major findings from International and national conferences on ageing points out that there is a dearth of information regarding good work done by various governmental and non-governmental organizations. Hence the main objective of the South Asia Forum for Aged Women- India Chapter was to demonstrate a knowledge base of innovative initiatives, their strategic elements, limitations and their impact on mainstreaming ageing with a focus on elderly women. The document seeks to share this information with government bodies and external audiences to aid the development of similarly effective and appropriate programs across the country.

Methodology for Case Study Selection

An in-depth study of literature was done to understand the issues and challenges of ageing, especially for elder women. In addition, the work of organisations working on ageing in India and abroad was reviewed and a conceptual framework for case study selection and guidelines for writing the studies was put together.

Based on the conceptual framework and discussions with UNFPA and other partners, an assessment criteria were drawn up that would guide the case study selection. These were:

  • Coverage - The project should have been implemented for a large group of beneficiaries, providing enough evidence for it to be a good practice
  • Impact - The project should have the ability to bring about some visible or measurable (qualitative) change in the life of aged women
  • Innovative - The documentation should indicate what is new and unique about the initiative
  • Replicability/adaptability - The project should have the potential to be replicated or adapted in other regions

Collecting good practices from across the country was an elaborate process. Several organisations, NGOs, government personnel and resource persons were contacted and mobilized for information on the subject. Through the conferences organized by SAFAW and word of mouth, commendable practices were identified and followed up. About 250 organisations and projects were reached via email and phone and were requested to provide details of their initiatives. SAFAW’s advisory board suggested some interesting projects as well, and the implementers were contacted. The response was encouraging. The shortlisting process began with analysis of the projects based on the assessment criteria listed above.

However, the team encountered some challenges in selecting the good practices. While there were a few projects that were working dedicatedly on ageing, not many met all the criteria. Most ageing-related initiatives were fairly recent and ranked low on assessment criteria like ‘impact’ and ‘replicability’. Hence to accommodate more studies, a higher degree of importance was given to ‘coverage’ and ‘innovation’. These two indicators were considered essential since a larger project (coverage) was more likely to have a greater impact and be more replicable, while showcasing new ideas and initiatives was one of the major goals of the documentation process.

Another constraint was that while there were innovative initiatives on ageing, not all of them were exclusively for women. For example, while the case studies on the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan and Sulabh International’s work with the widows of Vrindavan are focused exclusively on women; the case studies on Old Age Homes and Kerala State initiatives cater to both men and women. The latter case studies were included in this document since these projects have the potential to be scaled up and replicated across the country and our innovative cases in elderly care.
Once the projects were shortlisted, the team from SAFAW visited the sites to validate the project informatio. Independent researchers were then hired to collect data through questionnaires and interviews based on the conceptual framework and guidelines provided by the main research team. Information was collected on the project’s implementation strategy, innovativeness, replicability, achievements and challenges. This was sent to the research team who then elaborated on the important aspects of the project, culminating in nine good practices being identified.
It is important to mention here that the case studies included in this document are not an exhaustive list. It is one of the first organized attempts to collate initiatives that have an impact on the field of ageing. In addition to the case studies, this document includes a list of organizations doing good work in the field of ageing and supporting the cause of elderly women (Refer to page 59). These projects either did not qualify as per the selection criteria, or did not want to be covered/documented, or there was difficulty in identifying a researcher to document their work.


The selected case studies showcase a variety of projects working on health, economic empowerment, physical and social security run either by civil society or are government aided programs. All the programs are unique in their own way and have achieved excellent results in their area of functioning. Care has been taken to select studies from all over the country. However there are parts of the country which the team could not reach or gather information from, for example, North-East India. It is hoped that later works will be able to touch areas that have been left out by this endevour.

The study team hopes that this document provides guidance to new and emerging initiatives and suggests areas of improvement to existing ones. It is also hoped that the selected good practices would provide organisations dedicated to working on issues of ageing an increased knowledge base and many more innovative initiatives would be taken up in the coming years.

While a lot needs to be done in the area of ageing, the dissemination of good practices through this document aims to encourage favourable policy changes and positive reinforcement by both government and civil society.

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