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The Impact of the Pandemic on Older Women

We need to look at ageing in Australia as a gender issue.

Australian women are ageing quite differently to the majority of men.

Covid19 has exacerbated the significant disadvantage older women experience on every measure of economic and social wellbeing compared to men.

It has also increased their social isolation and exacerbated their precarious financial position.

For women, ageing is a process of devaluation.

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Corona & the Common Good

In the autumn of 2020, for two months, Australia united around the common good – “pro bono publico”.

When the scale of the approaching threat of coronavirus became evident, two unprecedented things happened.

First, Australian governments, federal and state, chose to put aside politics and ideology and based their policy on the advice of health experts.

Secondly, the Australian people trusted that our governments were actually acting to avoid a national catastrophe. So remarkably, a public consensus formed around the need to uphold the common good as a priority. What kept the vast majority of people in their homes was not the possibility of fines, it was this shared belief that our individual welfare depended on the welfare of others. And what kept us resolute were the images of mass graves in countries where there was no leadership and no consensus regarding the common good.

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Indigenous women elders imprisoned for homelessness & poverty

” Janine (age 61) is one of a large and growing number of older women who are homeless. Five years ago, she was made redundant from her position as an Office Manager in Perth. Despite great effort she has been unable to find a job and ultimately couldn’t afford to continue paying rent. Since beginning to live in her car 8 months ago, Janine has tried to find relatively safe places to park at night. As a result, she has accumulated parking fines which she simply can’t afford to pay … particularly as these have compounded, had administrative fees added and now total over $3,000. When Janine was pulled over by police for allegedly speeding, she was immediately arrested for these outstanding fines and sent to prison. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her car, which contains all her worldly possessions.”

First Nations women elders are being imprisoned as a direct result of being impoverished and homeless.
Minor non-violent offences, such as not having enough money to pay parking fines, can land them in gaol, and this can turn out to be a death sentence for an older woman.

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“Through no fault of their own”

“ Through no fault of their own”. This is the phrase that Prime Minister Morrison used when he announced the new Jobseeker payment that would replace Newstart for the coming 6 months. We were told that thousands of Australians would lose their jobs “ through no fault of their own”.  And since these people could not be expected to live on the Newstart payment of $40 a day, the Jobseeker payment would be doubled to $1,100 per fortnight.

Prior to Covid19, most people receiving the unemployment payment, Newstart, were actually women aged over 50. Many had been on Newstart for years, usually until they were old enough to qualify for the pension. Not once in the past did anyone in Government announce that these women were unemployed “through no fault of their own”.
Quite the opposite. 

There was a deliberate campaign to devalue and humiliate the people on Newstart as dole-bludgers who needed to be drug tested. 

 

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Covid19 – Is it the economy or the elderly?

There is a disturbing narrative growing about Covid19 restrictions. It boils down to making a choice between the economy or the elderly. The argument is that the economy and young people are being sacrificed to protect older people. Mike Seccombe in the Saturday Paper defined it as “ the extent to which we will mortgage our children’s future to protect the health of our ageing parents.”   And he talks about “ repaying the massive debt we have accrued, largely out of consideration of those older people.”

First, this creates an artificial dichotomy that somehow presents an international and a national crisis as an  inter-generational conflict.

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Abandoning Old People on Ice Floes

It’s called Senicide – the custom of abandoning or killing the elderly once they reached the age of 60 or 70. The Inuit abandoned elders on ice floes. If you are ageing in Australia and are financially vulnerable, while you may not be dumped on an ice floe, you are at risk of being abandoned.

The Australian Government fails to acknowledge the scale and severity of an unprecedented crisis facing our ageing population. But confront it we must, because it has become an existential issue for Australia.

In the same way that we need a comprehensive climate policy to deal with climate change, so too do we need a comprehensive strategy to deal with demographic change.

However, the Government is not engaged in strategic national planning on this issue. Instead its policy towards financially vulnerable older Australians can best be described as a policy of attrition.

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Now We Know Who To Blame

Australia is in the midst a housing affordability crisis. And now we know who to blame for it.

The Government is not to blame for a tax system that fuels skyrocketing house prices by benefiting local and foreign investors, developers and speculators. Nor is the Government to blame for its failure to address scarcity of housing including social housing.

No. The real culprits it appears are older Australians still living in their homes. It is their generational greed that is to blame.

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We, the Matriarchs…

We, the Matriarchs… are the first generation in history of older, highly educated women to number in the tens of millions.
We are the first ever generation of older women who have spent decades in the workforce in professions and skilled employment, and not in the sweatshops and the fields.
We are the first ever generation of older women who have accumulated independent wealth and economic clout, despite discriminatory wage practices.
And we are the first ever generation of older women who can expect to live into their 90s.

But now we are entering the age of retirement. What next? What does society expect of us?

Well, nothing really.

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True Face of Newstart Recipients

Wendy Morgan, in her appearance on ABC’s The Drum, showed the true face of Newstart recipients.

The majority are older women and they are on Newstart much longer than younger people, often for four years until they are old enough for the pension.

Wendy is not a drug addict. Nor is she a dole bludger.

She is a science tutor, has a double science degree in physics and chemistry, ran a printing lab and also has a forklift license.

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WOMEN OVER 50 – what shall we call ourselves?

Let’s start by listing what other people call us – matron, old lady, granny, biddy, old bag, crone, hag, witch, are some of the names used.

There is nothing positive about these appellations. They are either neutral or negative. 
They denote weakness, ugliness, helplessness and even evil.
They constitute a massive put down. 

In a society that values women primarily for their youthful beauty, sexual and reproductive powers, the more we age, the more we lose value. Our currency as women is devalued. 
Until we become invisible.

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