As member states and NGOs gathered at the UN in New York for the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), HelpAge International and its partners are calling for universal social protection for vulnerable older women. Together with its network members, HelpAge International is advocating for rights-based and gender-responsive social protection throughout the life course to be enshrined in the Agreed Conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In advance of the session, HelpAge International published recommendations to the zero-draft (available here).
Around the world, women are more likely than men to live in poverty throughout their lives, to be disempowered socially and economically, and have their rights denied. Most of the world’s older women struggle to survive and feed their families on very low incomes. They also greatly contribute to communities and economies through their work and care, which is often unrecognized and unpaid.
Increasingly, governments are moving towards universal non-contributory social pensions, and there is growing evidence that these are an effective and affordable solution, especially in countries with high levels of poverty and informal employment. They enhance women’s economic autonomy, strengthen their voice and agency, and can be an effective way of recognizing the value of unpaid work.
Due to the cumulative impacts of gender inequality and discrimination over the life course, however, women face greater barriers to accessing social pensions than men. According to Social Protection for Older Women, a briefing report by HelpAge International and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in the AARP journal, “Women are less likely than men to receive a pension, and if they do, they have considerably lower benefit levels. Even in countries where women enjoy widespread pension coverage, their benefit levels are often considerably lower than men’s.” In the Global South, Kenya has been a pioneer in developing social pensions. In 2018, President Kenyatta announced the roll-out of a universal cash transfer for all 833,000 Kenyan citizens aged 70 years and above, fully funded by the government with an annual allocation of USD 60 million. A digital citizen registry was set up to ensure all over-70s are registered and have access to pay points within 20 km of their homes.
Cecilia Mbaka, Head of the National Social Protection Secretariat in Kenya’s State Department of Social Protection, and a Trustee of HelpAge International, said: “We have long advocated for a universal pension, as previous means-tested schemes did not protect the most vulnerable older women. It has been a huge commitment to implementing this scheme, and we see it as a vital investment to enable all citizens to live longer, healthier lives now and in the future.”
Justin Derbyshire, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, said: “Evidence from Kenya and other countries shows how the introduction of universal social protection systems can not only improve older women’s wellbeing and dignity but also prevent and reduce poverty, inequality, and social exclusion in society. This year could mark a major milestone on the journey towards universal social protection for women of all ages and a sustainable future for all. At CSW next week, we are calling on the Member States to make progress on this commitment.”