World Elder Abuse Awareness Day - 15 June
Violence against Older Persons and Older Women
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day has been marked since 2006 at the initiative of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. It has been observed in Serbia since 2007 on the initiative of the Red Cross of Serbia, and in cooperation between the civil and public sectors. The Red Cross of Serbia was among the organizations that advocated the inclusion of this date in the official calendar of the United Nations, and for the last five years it has been celebrated globally with the participation of representatives of the Red Cross of Serbia at these events.
This year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day coincides with two important events. The first is the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030). This marks the beginning of a ten-year coordinated and ongoing collaboration with various stakeholders to improve the lives of older people, their families and their communities. The second is the 20th anniversary of the Second World Assembly on Ageing and the fourth report on the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). MIPAA represents the first time that governments have agreed to link ageing issues to other frameworks for social and economic development and human rights. The 159 Member States that have signed the MIPAA reaffirmed their commitment not to spare efforts to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development. The UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing is being held in Rome at the same time to coincide with the commemoration of this date. Natasa Todorovic from the Red Cross of Serbia will speak at the panel related to violence against older persons.
Violence against older persons is a global and serious public health and social problem, both in developed and underdeveloped societies. If we stick to modern discourse and views on human rights, violence against older persons is one of the most severe forms of violation of their human rights. Nevertheless, it is often not only tolerated, as part of established social norms, but often goes unnoticed, remaining invisible to institutions whose duty is protection from violence, while older people who suffer from it consider it a normal part of this period of their lives. Persons of both sexes, different ages, education, culture, ethnicity, economic status, different health status and religious affiliation may be targeted by violence. However, although it affects all segments of society, we are witnessing that violence is insufficiently reported and that registered cases are just the tip of the iceberg, so the prevalence is discussed in the form of estimates, because people who have experienced violence often suffer in silence with impaired health and dignity.
One of the most important things about ageing is that older persons as well as older women are not to be viewed as one homogeneous social group, because they are actually the most heterogeneous of all populations in society. With this in mind, it must be recognized that older women are exposed to specific risks of violence. One of the great triumphs of science and medicine is that we live in an era in which life expectancy has been extended. People live longer, and what characterizes this age is the feminization of aging. So, women live longer, but it also happens that they live in poorer material conditions, or live in poorer health. One of the characteristics of violence in the older age is that it affects older women differently than men due to the specifics of their life course, which may dictate increased risks of certain forms of violence in older age. Accumulated inequalities and obstacles that a woman encounters during her life accumulate and can have negative effects in older age, which is why it is important to look at the phenomenon of violence against older women from a life course perspective.
It is important that the problem of violence against older women is integrated into society not only within the discourse of violence against older persons, but also in the discourse of gender-based violence. By placing the problem of violence against older women in the mainstream means that we need to think further and deeper than mere chronological age, so that all age limits, whether we set them at the age of 49 or 59, should be abandoned because the data such studies are incomplete and do not adequately represent the experiences of older women.
Several studies on violence against older persons have been conducted in Serbia. In the latest research, the Red Cross of Serbia, with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), created a study “Violence against older women in the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine.” This research is based on the database from the research conducted by the OSCE in 2018, entitled “Welfare and Security of Women”. The database was donated by the OSCE to the Red Cross of Serbia, and the study covers: Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine and Kosovo.* Survey shows that 16.7% of women over 65 have experienced violence in the last 12 months. For many of them, this is a continuation of the violence they have suffered during their lives, because the research also shows that 56.2% of women over the age of 65 have experienced some form of violence since they were 15 years old.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on Kosovo's declaration of independence.
Research shows that the strongest predictor of violence in older women is childhood violence, so the incidence of both partner and non-partner violence against older women is significantly higher for those who suffered childhood violence: 18.4% of older women with experience of violence in their childhood has suffered from partner violence and 3.5% from non-partner violence in the last twelve months, compared to 10.5 and 1.7% of older women who did not suffer from childhood violence.
The identified risk factors are: early and forced marriage, financial and material deprivation, economic dependence, but also disability, the latter exclusively in partner violence. Patriarchal norms and values have also been highlighted as a significant contribution to the risk of violence.
The main reasons for not reporting violence are the belief that violence should remain in the family and that women should solve it on their own, or that incidents are viewed as too small. In both cases of partner and non-partner violence, women consulted more medical facilities than the police or any other support service. Strategies for overcoming this phenomenon so far do not show any systematic action aimed at resolving or leaving the situation of violence, which leaves women who are exposed to violence without exit strategies, forcing them to adapt to the situation of violence.
There are many recommendations, in various areas - education, regulation, services, data collection – but perhaps key are those related to changes in social norms through public advocacy, which include an approach based on the life course of an older woman and promoting intergenerational solidarity throughout life.
This year, the Red Cross of Serbia will organize focus groups with people from three generations - young, middle-aged and older – in six of its organizations - in Boljevac, Kragujevac, Sombor, Subotica, Uzice and Zajecar - on the occasion of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, entitled “Healthy ageing and intergenerational solidarity in the fight against violence against older persons”. These group discussions aim to bring together representatives of all generations to discuss social norms and perceptions of violence against older persons, and ways to prevent it through joint, solidary efforts between generations and recognizing the concept of healthy aging as an important element of healthy living for each individual, the community and society as a whole.