The world population above age 65 is growing more rapidly than the population below that age, according to World Population Prospects 2022: Summary of Results by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). As a result, the report continues, the share of global population at ages 65 and above is projected to rise from 10 per cent in 2022 to 16 per cent in 2050. At that point, it is expected that the number of people 65 years or over worldwide will be more than double the number of children under age 5 and about the same as the number under age 12.
Designated by the General Assembly in 1990, International Day of Older Persons recognizes and respects the contributions the elderly make to society and development and that their rights should be protected and promoted.
This year’s umbrella theme is “Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World” with variations in Geneva, Vienna and New York, which commemorates the theme “The Resilience and Contributions of Older Women.” Women tend to live longer than men so outnumber them at older ages in almost all populations, per UN DESA. Globally, women comprised 55.7 per cent of persons aged 65 or older in 2022, and are projected to make up 54.5 per cent by 2050. UNFPA has always stood for gender equality in all aspects of life, which is Sustainable Development Goal 5.
Women endure inequities throughout their lifetimes, from socioeconomic to health to climate-related impacts, which have been exacerbated by a nearly three-year-old global pandemic. Ageism and sexism then conspire against older women who are rendered invisible in a society that prizes youth. Yet the inequalities that shadowed them throughout life do not disappear.
This day reminds the world that older women are an asset, for their skills, talents, experiences, perspectives and resilience. For example, former cutters in Kenya – and female gential mutilation survivors themselves – now teach younger generations to reject the harmful practice. An obstetric fistula survivor who suffered from the traumatic birth injury for almost five decades became an ambassador spreading the word that treatment is available.
And in responding to climate change, “Women have historically developed knowledge and skills related to water harvesting and storage, food preservation and rationing, and natural resource management. In Africa, for example, old women represent wisdom pools with their inherited knowledge and expertise related to early warnings and mitigating the impacts of disasters,” according to the UN Chronicle. “This knowledge and experience that has passed from one generation to another will be able to contribute effectively to enhancing local adaptive capacity and sustaining a community's livelihood.”
UNFPA sees this ageing population as a vital part of economies and societies, not as a group to be discounted. Countries that champion inclusion and treat such populations with dignity will be better prepared to endure shifting demographics and thrive. As a 72-year-old woman who must rebuild her life after fleeing war in Ukraine said, “Age is not a diagnosis.”