#MeToo has no age limit

Kate Bunting
Posted November 25, 2017 from United States
women do not stop being targets of violence after a certain age

While the recent “#MeToo” movement has successfully drawn attention to violence leveled against disempowered members of American society, there are still women relegated to the margins whose stories are unheard and unheeded. Women of “a certain age,” those over 50, have long been ignored both statistically and anecdotally—as if there is a magical age that means a woman is no longer vulnerable to violence and discrimination.

On the face of it, this assertion seems absurd, yet violence against older women is not adequately addressed in the majority of research, policy and programs aimed at prevention and treatment of this type of abuse.Gender-based violence can occur across a lifetime and can be exacerbated in advanced age. Rooted in gender inequity and prevailing social norms, violence against older women—physical, sexual, or emotional—is a pressing health and human-rights issue. Women over 50 represent nearly a quarter of women around the world, and their proportion of the population will only grow based on demographic trends.Most of these women live in developing countries, often in societies where systems to report abuse or get help do not even exist and, if they do exist, are usually inadequate in responding to older women.

One reason older women are left out of the global discussion on gender-based violence is because they are systematically excluded from research on the subject. Statistics on gender-based violence and health tend to only focus on women of reproductive age; women 49 and over are left out. Where data is collected on older age groups, it is rarely disaggregated or analyzed. When older women are excluded from evidence-gathering, they are similarly excluded from humanitarian interventions expressly developed out of the process. In 2013, WHO Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women found lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence among women over 50 to be 20% but acknowledged that the confidence level of that figure was low, simply because there were few too data points.

The paucity of data about older women’s experience with violence led HelpAge to partner with the American Academy for the Advancement of Science to conduct a groundbreaking study to fill in these knowledge gaps. The study engaged men and women older than 49 years of age who are refugees internally displaced and asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the study found that violence against women does not stop because they age or when they flee a conflict setting.

Governments and multilateral organizations can do so much more to include older women in human rights protections. For instance, existing international human rights law does not explicitly articulate protecting older women from violence. Of the 133 countries surveyed in the World Health Organization’s 2014 Violence Prevention survey, only 59% said they have laws to prevent elder abuse, and only 30% said that these were fully enforced.

The Sustainable Development Goals—promising to "leave no one behind"—must fulfill that pledge. Hearteningly, the upper-age cap on measuring violence against women has been removed, signaling a recognition that more needs to be done to monitor the 900 million women in the world (24% of the world’s women) who are over 49 years of age.This is a step in the right direction, but more can be done. In order to include older women, data, policy and programs addressing violence against women and girls need to measure and address the specific needs of older victims.

With today marking the first of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, remember the older women around the world who would say, “#MeToo,” if only they were asked. Today, November 25, as we all align ourselves to help end gender-based violence, remember to include older women. Remember them in your work. Remember them in your policy objectives. Remember them in your development programming.

They have said, “Me too.” We just haven’t been able to hear them because we never asked.

This story was submitted in response to After #MeToo: Stories of Change.

Comments 6

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Hilaire Murhula
Nov 25, 2017
Nov 25, 2017


Jill Langhus
Nov 26, 2017
Nov 26, 2017

Hi Kate. Good luck on your story submission:-)

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 26, 2017
Nov 26, 2017

Dear Kate,

Thank you so much for your call for recognition that violence against old women is being not only ignored, but intentionally left out of statistics. Not long ago in Canada a woman in her 90's was raped by a man who broke into her home, and women are caught in violent marriages that last their whole lives. Thank you especially for shining a light on the treatment and outright dismissal of old women globally. All of this is part of what we need to work together to change.

In sisterhood,


Nov 26, 2017
Nov 26, 2017

Hi Kate, this gives me thought, and you are right... what about the older women, how to support them...Thank you.

Dec 08, 2017
Dec 08, 2017

Hi Kate, I read you post and saved it for further reference. About 10 days ago, the OGP Regional Summit took place in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and one of the mainstream concerns was how to put together the data we need for a better -and more accurate- approach to gender-based violence. As you've perfectly portrayed, figures are not really reflecting this whole collective of women and therefore they're invisible to specific public policies.  

Thank you por sharing and engage us all in a better vision of a shared problem!

Jensine Larsen
Feb 04, 2018
Feb 04, 2018

Thank you for raising this important issue here - too often older women are left out and they must be included, not least for the incredible wisdom for our future survival.