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Population ageing is one of the most significant global phenomena of the 21st century. The number of persons aged 60 and over is increasing at an unprecedented pace, and is anticipated to reach 1 billion by the end of the decade. Latest statistics confirm that women already outnumber men among those aged 60 or older, and are twice as numerous among those aged 80 or over.
Older women constitute an invaluable asset to society at all levels. However, the increase in numbers has shed light on multiple challenges older women face on a daily basis, as they are often discriminated on the basis of age, exposed to abuses and even financial exploitation, socially excluded and, without any form of adequate care and financially sustainable pensions. The lack of protection mechanisms and the existing gaps in policies and programmes to address the situation of older women makes them even more vulnerable and susceptible to harm.
The situation of elderly persons, including older women, is at the centre of policy debates and processes at EU level. The overarching Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth outlines that keeping people healthy and active for longer has an absolute positive impact on productivity and competitiveness. Over an increasingly longer lifespan, prolonging working periods and involving more people in the labour market are crucial policy responses to ageing. Comprehensive transformation and fundamental redistribution of work to address generation and gender gaps, as well as care and other welfare enhancing activities are needed to improve competitiveness and productivity and underpin a sustainable social market economy.
Similarly, the situation of older women is of critical importance for the EU engagement with partner countries. The EU uses all the tools at its disposal to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights by all, including older women, under equal conditions, without suffering age discrimination or being victims of abandonment, mistreatment or violence.
The challenges older women face today are not small and much more needs to be done to address them. While the discussion about the new instrument for a better tackling of the many real problems facing older persons or whether much could be achieved already by making better use of existing instruments is ongoing we must, with joint efforts, ensure older women can still have an active role in their communities.
This morning’s panel is an excellent opportunity to recall that we have a common obligation to enable and protect the human rights of women and girls, including rights of older women, everywhere at any time.
In this vein, the EU will continue to act globally to advance the gender equality agenda.