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

14 June 2023

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
15 June 2023

GENEVA (14 June 2023) – 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.”


To read more about the human rights of older women, check out the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons’ 2021 report to the General Assembly available here.

*The experts: Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Gerard QuinnSpecial Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Ana Peláez Narváez, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur on the Rights of Older Persons of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Claire Mathellié and Manon Beury by email [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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