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Statement to the Fourth World Conference on Women

 By Susanne Paul, President, Global Action on Aging

Beijing, September, 1995

Distinguished delegates:

It is a pleasure to speak to you on behalf of the NGO Committee on Aging at the UN in New York, the World Federation of Methodist Women and Global Action on Aging, of which I am President.

During this Conference you have focussed on infancy, childhood and young adulthood -- affirming the rights and well-being of the girl child and the mother. I strongly endorse these concerns. But I come to speak about another part of women's lives that this Conference has largely overlooked -- from middle age to later life. As longevity increases rapidly around the globe, and women live to age sixty, seventy, eighty, and more, half their lives extend beyond the frame of childhood and motherhood. We cannot ignore this other half.

We must raise concerns for older women because human solidarity demands it and because our own self-interest is at stake as well (we, too, are older or soon will be older). We must struggle against the idea that women are irrelevant and expendable when they can no longer procreate. And if we care about children, we must recognize that grandmothers are often the critical care-givers and home-makers, stepping in for mothers who are increasingly away at work all day, who have migrated to a distant city or country, or who have died of disease or the ravages of civil conflict and war. Yes, tens of millions of children would be in peril were it not for their loving grannies.

We must go beyond platitudes about the well-being of older people. First and foremost, we must oppose with all our strength the disastrous neo-liberal reforms and structural adjustment programs forced on us by the World Bank, the IMF and other fundamentalist apostles of the religion of greed and unchecked markets. Their so-called reforms are ravaging older women's lives around the globe. They are slashing pensions and other life supports, cutting back on social programs and health care, and imposing fees for essential services as if they were chewing gum or coca cola. Yes, mothers and girl children are suffering from these "reforms" as well -- while a handful of global citizens engorge themselves with wealth in an unprecedented orgy of power and privilege which makes a mockery of democratic ideals.

Let us look carefully at the condition of older women and insist that they enjoy: (1)the right to employment, if they are able and wish to work, (2)the right to a decent income, guaranteed by a global income-support fund, (3)the right to social services, housing, health care, educational opportunities, the chance to socialize and have fun. All the things that human well-being requires.

Yes, the World Bankers will try to tell us that there just aren't enough resources to go around. They will try to pit children against older people in a scramble for a few crumbs. But we know that the world is richer than ever before and that there are plenty enough resources if we distribute them fairly and equitably. So we must refuse the vicious and destructive cant that too often passes for official "development" theory. We must say to Mr. Wolfensohn, Mr. Camdessus and the rest: promote human development or step down. And we must demand a good life for all women -- young and old alike -- throughout the whole length of life.