The role of older women as the ‘hidden workforce’

The role of older women as the ‘hidden workforce’

The United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing aims to align the with key items of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including good health and wellbeing and reduction of inequalities within and between countries.[1] 

Also central to the United Nations SDGs is the goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. A recent Age International report highlighted the critical, yet unrecognised, roles women in low- and middle-income countries through the accounts of older women in Ethiopia and Malawi.[2] 

Globally, older women carry out and estimated 4.3 hours of unpaid work daily, including childcare and care of other members of the community as well as domestic work.[2] As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic this figure is now thought to be much higher. 

Highlighted as a ‘hidden workforce’, many of these women reach later life with little to no savings, assets or access to a pension despite their vital contribution to their local communities. As well as facing the challenges of ageism in society, these older women are routinely faced with the outcomes of a lifetime of gender inequality as they are disproportionately responsible for daily unpaid care and domestic work. A combination of the stigma attached to working women, the discrimination that they face and the perceived lack of value that this ‘hidden workforce’ provides results in little to no choice in the type of work women in low- and middle- income countries undertake and no assistance from local support structures such as social welfare and healthcare systems.  

To overcome these inequalities and deliver on the SDGs and commitment to leave no one behind, policymakers and organisations need to focus on the global rights and contributions of older women and engage with them to develop effective gender equality policy. Through understanding the current needs and challenges of older women, investment in effective support systems and access to adequate work can help empower older women as well as improve the economic rights of women of all ages. 

Read the full Age International report here.