The changing socio-economic paradigm has led to a fundamental change in the way communities and society has organized itself. The breakdown of community values has created a new axis of vulnerability – age. Demographic data shows an increasing number of aged in the populations across the globe; and studies have established that these elderly persons, and specifically aged women, single women, face several problems and challenges and need increased social security protection like pensions, housing and healthcare support and innovative schemes.

The women's movement thus far has not yet engaged itself with issues of the ageing women like access to pensions, social security, housing, access to affordable and quality healthcare, etc. which now need our urgent attention. There is a need to mainstream the issues of the elderly women amongst all stakeholders like NGOs, CSOs, Government Departments, CSRs, Corporate Foundations etc. for developing sensitive policies, programs and innovations like pensions, housing, social security cover etc. to address the problems of the elderly and support them in their multiple needs.

There is a need to anchor this work in the South Asian perspective and strengthen linkages with groups from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Introduction on the South Asia Forum for Aged Women (SAFAW)

The world is undergoing an increasing demographic transition where the number of females is outnumbering the number of males in terms of life expectancy. The ‘Feminization of Ageing’ is becoming even more problematic in developing countries such as India, where concerns related to ageing is accentuated by the socio-economic and cultural differences in the society.

It has become a matter of increasing urgency to look for ways to maintain and improve the functional abilities of ageing people, especially the elderly women, to help them cope independently in the community and ultimately, to raise the quality of their lives.

Some nascent steps in this direction have been initiated in recent past by Stree Shakti- The Parallel Force. The International Conference on “Ageing Women: Critical Challenges and Concerns” was organized in New Delhi from 26-28th August 2013 by Stree Shakti –The Parallel Force with the support of Help Age India and UNDP India.

As a way forward to the conference, Stree Shakti-The Parallel Force formed the South Asia Forum for Aged Women which aims at identifying innovative practices to support the elderly women groups, and to advocate for gender inclusive policy changes focusing on the aged with government agencies and departments and mainstreaming the issues and concerns of elderly women on the agenda of women’s groups, CSR, Corporate Foundations and relevant organizations. In India, the project duration is from November 2013 to July 2014 and is being supported by UNFPA.

Interactive Meetings and Conferences

The South Asia Forum for Aged Women with support of UNFPA is concentrating work in India advocating for aged women’s issues and concerns with women’s groups, CSR and Corporate Foundations, government and relevant agencies. To achieve this, a series of regional conferences and interactive meetings had been organized in New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and one in Kolkata to be held in April, in order to spread awareness for the cause.

An update from the conferences:

The Delhi meeting titled ‘Raising Awareness on Aged Women: Issues and Challenges’ was held on the 1st of February in collaboration with the National Resource Centre for Women in Janpath Hotel.
The Jaipur meeting titled ‘Aged Women: Issues and Challenges’ was held on 8th of February in collaboration with The Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (CECOEDECON), Jaipur. The conference was attended by 58 participants.
A Zonal Conference on 'Women and Ageing' on March 10th, 2014 in Mumbai in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and the SNDT Women’s University.
The Kolkata conference was held on the 21st April 2014. The conference was in collaboration with Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology.

Documentation of Best Practices from across the country

The project intends to identify, document and collate innovations and good practices for supporting the aged women to lead a life of dignity and security. The good practices could be linked to implementing a policy or to provision of services like health care, housing, care-giving, income security, rights and entitlements and any other women empowerment related work that prepare them to deal with challenges at the end of their lives.

The selection of good practices is based on an assessment formed out of these criteria:

Scale - the project should have been implemented with a wider beneficiaries group that provides enough evidence for it to be a good practice
Effectiveness - the project should have the ability to bring about some visible or measurable change in the life of aged women
Innovative - the documentation should be able to indicate what is new and unique about the initiative
The Kolkata conference was held on the 21st April 2014. The conference was in collaboration with Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology.
Replicability - the project should have the potential to be duplicated in other regions

Project objectives are :

To identify innovations and best practices for supporting the aged women
To undertake policy advocacy and bring the issues and concerns of the aged women on the agenda of the government agencies and departments
To mainstream the issues and concerns of the aged women on the agenda of women’s groups and other relevant agencies
To mainstream the issues of aged women on the agenda of the CSR and Corporate Foundations and motivate them to make resource commitment for the cause

Recommendations emerging from the conference:

Uniform retirement age and developing post retirement skills
Commission for aged women within NCW to create legal awareness
Free Travel Pass for elderly
Inclusion of single women in welfare schemes
Mandatory provision of health care for elderly women
Importance of gerontology in (Medical) Education
Intergenerational old age homes and community care
Universal Pension scheme
Tax concessions and reforms
More involvement of CSR in work related to the elderly women

Case studies selected so far:

Widows in Ashram- A case study of Sulabh International, Vrindaban and Benaras
Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan- A Haven for Women Empowerment, Udaipur
Financial Inclusion of elderly women in Gujarat- SEWA
Farmers Widows of Vidarbha, A HelpAge case study
International Longevity Center-1 project Pune
Health care services-Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, Kolkata
Older Women in Institutions - A few Good Practices
Working with Alzheimer's - Nightingale Medical Trust, Bangalore
Kerala State Projects for the Elderly - A study from Thiruvantapuram

Important Milestones for SAFAW India

Inclusion of Aged Women in Gender Manifesto published on 28th November, 2013 by Center For Social Research & Women Power Connect New Delhi
CSR and Elderly - As a result of constant lobbying and advocacy, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has added “elderly” to the CSR Agenda on 27 February, 2014
Representation of Women and Ageing in the IFA Conference, Hyderabad 2014, where the South Asia Forum for Aged Women presented its findings from the conferences and case study documentation to advocates and experts from world over
Inclusion of the issues of Women and Ageing in various women’s forums and initiatives

Way Forward

Stree Shakti- The Parallel Force envisages taking the SAFAW initiative to other countries in South Asia.
The following is a vision of events and activities to strengthen the South Asia network and give the issue of ‘Women and Ageing’ a greater voice:

Collaborate with countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore and Thailand to form a stronger South Asia Forum
Identify innovation of services provided or policy implementation to help elderly women in these countries and document them as good practices
Host Round Table Meetings in, Nepal, Bangkok and Singapore to begin interface with China to take the issue of women and ageing beyond South Asia and build an interface with China
Organize a Photographic Exhibition of “Women and Ageing in South Asian Countries” to raise awareness and advocate for their cause
Disseminate the findings of the work done by all the countries represented in the South Asia Forum in the next IFA conference to be held in Brisbane, Australia, 2016.