The number of people aged 60 and above is expected to reach 1.4 billion in 2030 and 2 billion in 2050— with the majority living in low- and middle-income countries. Photo: UNDP Asia Pacific

Bringing Older Women to the Forefront of Global Discussions #CSW63

United Nations Headquarters, New York – On the first day marking the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), AARP hosted its  12th annual briefing series, entitled “Why it matters; Social Protection for Older Women”, to highlight the global state of social protection for older women, and spearhead a general discussion on the various ways governments and other stakeholders can do more to secure social protection for older women. You can read the concept note here.

The event facilitated a discussion that engaged stakeholders to collectively explore ways of enhancing all possibilities for older women around the globe, with the quest to leave no one behind, towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The event organized by AARP, in collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, attracted over 150 government officials, policymakers, activists, and thought leaders who actively engaged with panelists during the interactive luncheon.

Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, a media platform for the development community, opened the program. Quoting from Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises”, he cautioned that the emergence of a global demographic shift brought a burgeoning burden of new diseases including non-communicable diseases which particularly impact older generations, for this nexus, he called for preserving humanitarian principles, and the rights of older persons, which can be championed by opportunities and conversations like the briefing luncheon.

AARP’s Vice President for International Affairs Aimee Carter, took to the podium to share a moment of silence honoring UN colleagues and others lost over the weekend in the Ethiopia Airlines crash, prior to commencing her welcoming remarks. “Sixty years ago, AARP was founded by an older woman, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus and today, AARP’s core mandate lies in bringing a strong advocacy tradition to the global level, on behalf of older persons everywhere” she explained. She highlighted the importance of convening world renowned experts and thought leaders on important issues to promote global participation and discourse to incite global solutions. Completing her remarks, Ms. Carter reiterated the event’s hashtag “#thetimeisnow” to echo the urgency for immediate action towards global social protection for older women.

The opening remarks were made by Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer of AARP, thanking AARPs colleagues for organizing a commendable event, she highlighted the need to look at older women as the future especially that by 2050, the number of women over age 60 will be over 1 billion. “Despite representing a significant portion of the world’s older population, older women were far too overlooked in key global policy discussions and decisions, particularly those related to economic security later in life”, she added. Ms. Whitman explained that around the globe, most older women lack access to pensions and for the few that do, they receive benefits that are lower, even though they have longer life expectancies than men.

The Honorable Kwabena Osei-Danquah, Chef de Cabinet to the President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly graced the event as a keynote speaker. He spoke on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, her Excellency, María Fernanda Espinosa.  Hon. Osei- Danquah expressed that Almost 700 million people today are aged 60 + and the number was forecasted to rise to around 2 billion by 2015, which means that older persons will represent about a fifth of the global population- outnumbering children and young people.  He emphasized that the gender pay gap is not due to close until 2086 which translated to the fact that women tend to contribute less to pension schemes and are more vulnerable to poverty in older age. Hon. Kwabena Osei-Danquah stated that the General Assembly continues to work on such issues through the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on ageing, for instance, by generating healthy debates on the need for a dedicated convention on the rights of older persons. “Agenda 2030 also makes explicit reference to older persons and rightly so, older people make a substantial contribution to the global economy both through formal and informal ways” he added.

Ms. Christina Behrendt, Head of Policy for Social Protection ILO stressed that only 45% of people in the world today are covered by social protection programs, and most of the global population is still not covered. She further explained that worldwide, while about two-thirds of older persons have access to some kind of a pension, at the same time it is not enough. “Greater efforts and investments are needed to ensure that everyone has a right to social security and social protection-as a basic human right” she said. Referencing the Commission for Social Development, she explained that such a platform presented an opportunity to include older persons; “front and center,” towards people centered and inclusive development. Ms. Behrendt gave examples of a few countries that invested in pensions which could be used as a benchmark to secure social protection in old age, she also highlighted that other countries were cutting pensions as part of austerity measures, but that inevitably created a huge challenge for income security for older people in general, especially for women.

Echoing similar sentiments but from a human rights perspective, Andrew Gilmore, the Assistant Secretary General of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained that the global human rights situation concerning social protection for older women was very grim. He explained that generally women are discriminated against, and there is a double discrimination against older women. As an entry point, the Sustainable Development Goals centered around the tenet of leaving no one behind were a good starting point to champion human rights for older persons. Mr. Gilmore explained that while there are currently nine treaty bodies of UN conventions, none of them apply solely to older persons.

Sharing another perspective, Justin Derbyshire, CEO of Help Age International expressed that there were few resources focused on older persons across the United Nations agencies and within most Member States- a situation he likened to the issue of population ageing as an “invisible iceberg”. “From an evidenced based perspective, when you do not include older persons in the development agenda, including in policies and programmes, older women are disproportionately affected, and the achievement of the SDGs will not be possible without them”, he stated.

Adding to the dialogue, Cindy Hounsell, President the Women’s Institute for Secure Retirement (WISER) articulated that social protections often do not benefit many of the people who need them, many people do not even know their rights, let alone know the retirement age, she explained. She further explained, it was time to move from mere discussions, to actions- one such action would be a global campaign to bring awareness to the issue of social protection for older persons.

Summing up the discussion, the moderator Raj Kumar reiterated that that one issue that came out of the discussion was that “social protection for older women mattered because it connected a lot of elements, from human rights, economic, innovation, the future of work etc. it was fundamentally a women’s rights issue” he said.

At the end of the briefing, Amal Abou Rafeh, Chief, Programme on Ageing (UNDESA) delivered the closing remarks. Ms. Abou Rafeh expressed gratitude to the panelists for deliberating such a complex issue and bringing light to the realities that many older women face throughout their life; including discrimination in employment. She added that social protection in addition to the provision of basic social services should be considered as part of older person’s human rights. She highlighted the role of public policy research and insights which have found way into governmental processes through the UN Secretary-General reports on ageing, and how numerous studies on Sustainable Development Goals have continually indicated that the goals cannot be achievable without the full engagement of older persons and the issue of global ageing. Ms. Abou Rafeh thanked the cohost AARP for organizing the event and recognized their long-standing advocacy, which has successfully enhanced collaboration with governments and different entities, private businesses and NGOs to champion the interest of older persons both in the United States and the global arena. She concluded the event with the hashtag “#thetimeisnow”. Read more..

Related Resources:

AARP Foundation, AARP Foundation Announces Urban Institute Report Showing First Comprehensive View into the 13MM Low Income Older Workers. Available at:

Kratz, Stacey, AARP New York, Disrupting Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Available at:

United Nations, 57th Session of the Commission for Social Development. Available at:

United Nations, The Madrid Plan of Action and its Implementation. Available at:

United Nations, Economic Inequalities in Old Age 2017. Available at:

United Nations (UNDESA), Promoting Inclusion through Social Protection: Report on the World Social Situation 2018. Available from

International Labour Organization (ILO), World Social Protection Report 2017-19. Available from

United Nations (UNWOMEN), Protecting Women’s Income Security in Old Age: Toward Gender Responsive Pension Systems. Available from