Human rights experts call for inclusive data collection to end gender-based violence in old age


The lack of data and reliable information on the extent of gender-based violence in old age is a major obstacle to effectively addressing this gross violation of human rights in all societies, a group of UN and regional human rights experts* said today. They issued the following statement ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day:

“Gender-based violence does not disappear with age, but often goes unnoticed and under-reported due to gaps in evidence collection. Violence against older women is the result of structural and deep-rooted discrimination and inequality based on the intersection of sex, gender and age. It prevents older women in all their diversity from enjoying their rights and freedoms on an equal basis.

Data on experiences of violence, abuse and maltreatment in later life is largely missing. While statistics on violence against women are available mainly in relation to intimate partner violence and sexual violence, most surveys typically exclude women over the age of 50 from their sample. This is mainly because chronological and biological ageing are regularly used in surveys of gender-based violence that focus on women, and therefore tend to focus on the experiences of women of reproductive age, defined as 15 to 49 years. This age group also suggests that women over 50 are considered to be old, even though their lives are different from women in the oldest age groups.

There is a general absence of data on gender-based violence against older lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women. While there is some data on older persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, these statistics are often not disaggregated by sex, gender, leaving these older women completely invisible.

A narrow age range in data collection therefore renders the lived realities of older women invisible and fails to provide evidence of the challenges they are facing. This information gap also makes it impossible for States to monitor their progress in fulfilling their human rights obligations to end violence against women of all ages. Although some findings indicate that the prevalence of gender-based violence decreases with age, such an assertion could be misleading given data limitations and underreporting of such cases.

Such an approach results in a significant gap in the understanding of gender-based violence in old age, leading to inappropriate legal and policy protections to tackle these issues, as well as gaps in services available to older survivors.

Ageism contributes to the increased risk of violence and abuse faced by older women, especially those with disabilities, including physical, psychological, verbal and financial abuse and violence, as well as social isolation and exclusion. From health concerns, like menopause to economic concerns, like lower pensions, burden of informal care work or no income at all, older women face specific risks of discrimination and abuse. The prevalence of violence against older women, especially with disabilities, is estimated to be higher in institutional settings. They are also at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence and harmful practices involving, for instance, accusations of witchcraft.

We are concerned that, more than 12 years after the recognition of 15 June as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, gender-based violence in old age remains slow to be recognised through data and information collection. In 2018, the World Health Organization found that less than 10 per cent of eligible data on intimate partner violence included women aged 50 and over. This data comes mainly from high-income countries, where prevalence rates are comparatively lower than elsewhere.

There is an urgent need to review existing disaggregation protocols for data on gender-based violence to effectively address this scourge, and promote the generation and disaggregation of available data on older women in all their diversity by 5-year age groups. The use of targeted surveys on gender-based violence against older women is instrumental in overcoming existing challenges of under-reporting. Surveys and all other methods to collect data must be inclusive and accessible to older women, including those with disabilities.

On the occasion of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2023, we urge States, UN agencies, statistical offices, media, and other key actors to make a strong commitment towards ending violence against older persons and strengthen their data collection systems to make visible the lived realities of gender-based violence in old age.”

/Public Release. View in full here.