Challenges for older women

Older women are at an increased risk of being vulnerable because of their age as well as their gender

Challenges for older women


he global population’s proportion of older people is growing due to reduced birth rates and infant mortality rates. By 2050, one in five people will be 60 years and above. This will be the first time in human history when elderly people will outnumber children under the age of 15. The number of older persons (those 60 and over) in the world is predicted to reach 2 billion by 2050. Women will make up a majority in the 2 billion because they live longer than men do. Pakistan is one of the 15 countries in the world where the number of people aged 60 and above is more than 10 million. The number of older people in the country, estimated currently to be 17 million, is predicted to rise to 46 million by 2050.

Age-based discrimination, social and political marginalisation and other human rights violations affect older people everywhere. Older people always face challenges and issues in accessing quality healthcare facilities, income, livelihoods and other services. Older women are at a greater risk of being vulnerable because of their age as well as because of their gender.

The most important and foremost need of an old person is income; unfortunately, very few old people in Pakistan have access to a good source of income or pension. The existing pension system in Pakistan covers only about 15 percent of the population of older people in the country, leaving most of the elderly without financial stability. Older women are very vulnerable in this situation as they are usually financially dependent on their husbands and most older men do not have a source of income or pension. Because of this, it is extremely difficult for older women to meet their basic needs.

Pakistani women in both urban and rural areas frequently perform unpaid work at home, such as caring for others, doing housework, helping with agricultural tasks and home-based informal jobs. Therefore, they cannot participate in the labour force. As a result of their unpaid jobs, they are frequently financially dependent on other family members. They are vulnerable even when they are working. When they stop working due to a health condition or because they get old, their vulnerability increases. In 2020, female labour force participation in Pakistan was 21 percent, which is low compared to other countries in similar economic situations. According to the Vision 2025 document, Pakistan ranks amongst the lowest in female labour force participation globally, at 144th.

The second most crucial factor is having access to high-quality healthcare services. Older women frequently depend on their family members to accompany them to a medical facility. The visits are frequently delayed and postponed because of other commitments. Due to this, older women frequently have health issues that remain unaddressed. Sometimes when a visit to a medical facility is skipped, a minor health condition becomes more complicated. Moreover, because older people rely on other family members for financial support, the family support system does not pay for older women’s medical bills or other healthcare expenses. Instead, funds are allocated to younger family members due to poverty and other issues.

Additionally, older women are increasingly living alone – some have been abandoned – as younger relatives move to other cities or abroad. This increases loneliness, depression and anxiety in older women. Unfortunately, no one cares about their mental health status, even though they frequently require psychosocial counselling.

With ageing comes a rise in the prevalence of several disabilities, and many older people—particularly older women—live with a disability. According to global estimates, 46 percent of the population of old people lives with some form of disability, which means that around 8 million older people in Pakistan live with some form of disability. Older women with disabilities frequently face abuse and violence, as well as a lack of access to appropriate healthcare. Healthcare services are often inaccessible, and most healthcare providers lack the capacity to accommodate women with disabilities. Older women with disabilities are at a higher risk of poverty and are forced to rely on family, charity or government assistance.

Usually, older women do not have any tangible assets to their name. Due to unfair social norms that harm women’s economic standing and leave them vulnerable to poverty, women’s rights to land and property are restricted. This loss of social and economic standing may contribute to an environment where elder women are abused and exploited.

It is worth noting that Pakistan is a signatory to the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, which emphasises the importance of older people having a secure income, access to healthcare, shelter, and involvement in decision-making. Pakistan, on the other hand, still lacks a national policy on the rights and care of the elderly.

A significant issue that has gone unaddressed for many years is the protection of elderly people’s rights and wellbeing. It is quite worrying that there was no legislation in place to protect older people’s rights and welfare in the country before 2014. The first ever legislation for the welfare of older people was passed in 2014 by the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Citizens Act). This was followed by provincial governments of Sindh (Sindh Senior Citizens Welfare Act, 2014) and Balochistan (Balochistan Senior Citizens Act, 2017) that passed laws in 2016 and 2017, respectively. In 2021, the Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizens Act was also approved. However, there is still no law in the Punjab to protect the older people.

Even where laws have been enacted there is a question mark with regard to their enforcement. The law in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was passed in 2014, but the rules for its implementation were notified in 2017. In Sindh, the law was enacted in 2016. However, the rules were notified in 2021. The government of Balochistan has still to notify the rules.

These laws enable a senior citizen to apply for a senior citizen card after reaching the age of 60. The card holders are entitled to certain benefits including financial assistance and reduced medical and medicine charges. It is peculiar that the government has asked older people to apply for a new card. Approximately 1 million senior citizens have filed papers to social welfare offices in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; none have received the Senior Citizen Card to date.

The obvious challenge here is the difficulty for the older people to get a new card, apart from the need to devote dedicated resources and time for this. One wonders if the national identity card could be used instead.

The author is a communications specialist and a freelance writer, he is based in Rawalpindi and can be reached at: He tweets   @qureshiwaqasA

Challenges for older women