Batman

MOVE OVER BATMAN – OLDER WOMEN ARE SAVING THE WORLD

We know that Batman cloaked in his cape and mask, was instantly recognisable when saving the world. But when older women are literally saving the world during this pandemic, they are cloaked in invisibility and masked by anonymity.

Remarkably, all around the world there is a predominance of women aged over 50 involved in the invention and in the development of most Covid19 vaccines. This applies to AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharma and CanSino, Covaxin, and Sputnik V.

Nevertheless, most people are totally unaware of this.

“Who invented the Covid19 vaccine and why don’t we know their names?” someone asked on Twitter. In reply I tweeted: 

“ Because most of them are women aged over 50.”

Therefore, as a social enterprise advocating for women aged 50+, WomanGoingPlaces chooses to give due recognition to some of the leading women who individually and collectively, are in the frontline against a disease that has already killed over 4.1 million people and infected over 195 million.

Sarah Gilbert – Oxford AstraZeneca- UK

During this year’s tennis at Wimbledon, the international sports coverage showed the heir to the British throne, various members of royalty, the top tennis players in the world and all the people in the stands, on their feet applauding an auburn-haired woman sitting stunned, with tears running down her cheeks. But outside Britain, most people did not know who she was.

It was Dame Professor Sarah Catherine Gilbert, 59, the woman who led the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. She is a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and the co-founder of Vaccitech. Together with her Oxford colleague Professor Catherine Green, they delivered the vaccine in record time within one year, when the previous record for a new vaccine was 4 years. 

In 2014, Professor Gilbert  led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine. And later, her research to develop a vaccine for Mers – Middle East respiratory syndrome – a type of corona virus, enabled her to pivot and rapidly apply her findings to Covid19 as it was bursting on the scene.

Professor Gilbert is a mother to triplets.

Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green have written a book Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus.

Katalin Karikó – mRNA – U.S.A

It is the pioneering research of Dr. Katalin Karikó, 66, that lies at the core of the highly innovative and experimental technology of the mRNA vaccine. Traditional vaccines consist of weakened or inactivated forms of a virus that stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies, however a vaccine using mRNA sends a set of instructions into cells to teach them to make a protein. This triggers an immune response inside our bodies to fight off the disease.

Dr.Kariko a Hungarian-born biochemist, had her ‘Eureka’ realisation when she was still a college student in Hungary in the 1970s. She was convinced that mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.This would create a new category of therapeutic medicine. But after she moved to the U.S. she spent 16 years in the laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was demoted and told that she was not “faculty quality” after university officials grew frustrated by her lack of progress. Her applications for grants were repeatedly rejected.

It was only in 2005 that she, together with a colleague, immunologist Drew Weissman, discovered how to make the new technology viable. This laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. In 2013 Dr. Kariko joined  BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, where she is now Senior Vice President.

 

Özlem Türeci & Kathrin Jansen – Pfizer – Germany – U.S.A

Özlem Türeci, 54, is the chief medical officer of BioNTech, a German start-up biotech company that she co-founded with her husband Dr. Ugur Sahin in 2008. Dr. Tureci who was born in Germany, is the daughter of a Turkish surgeon who immigrated from Istanbul. She is a physician, immunologist and cancer researcher.

At the outset of the pandemic, she took charge of LightSpeed, the clinical trials that resulted in the first approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19 in 2020, with an effectiveness rate of over 90%.

US pharmaceutical company Pfizer had previously worked together with BioNTech on a flu vaccine. In 2020, they quickly agreed to collaborate again to help win the race to rapidly test, gain approval, produce and distribute their coronavirus vaccine.

 

 

The person at Pfizer who was  in charge of this operation was Dr. Kathrin Jansen, 63, the Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine R&D. Dr. Jansen led an unprecedented effort involving a team of more than 700 researchers to successfully deliver the Pfizer vaccine in months — instead of the more common 10 to 15 years.

 

 

 

 

 

Dolly Parton – Moderna – USA

The American company Moderna was right up there amongst the frontrunners to first develop a Covid19 vaccine. And the reason they were in that position was because of iconic performer  Dolly Parton, 74.

It was actually two young women who led the development of Moderna’s Covid19 vaccine in the U.S. One was Kizzmekia Corbett, a young black 35 year-old immunologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). She collaborated with 35 year-old Hamilton Bennett, the senior director at Moderna in designing and engineering the mRNA vaccine. 

However, when these two women began their research, Moderna was a small, relatively unknown biotech company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But less than a month after Covid-19 was officially declared a pandemic, Dolly Parton  donated $1 million to coronavirus research at Vanderbilt University and encouraged others to donate. 

Her seed money helped fund the breakthrough by Moderna to develop the second coronavirus vaccine with a stunningly high protection rate of 90+%. Dr. Naji Abumrad of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center acknowledged: “Without a doubt in my mind, Dolly Parton’s funding made the research toward the vaccine go 10 times faster than it would be without it.”

 

Nita Patel – Novavax – USA

Dr. Nita Patel 56, is the Executive Director leading global Covid19 Vaccine Development at Novavax, a Maryland biotech company. At the outbreak of the pandemic, Novavax was a small firm competing against Big Pharma in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Patel led her all female team of scientists to develop state-of-the-art Recombinant Nanoparticle Technology to make a vaccine. The Novavax vaccine was found to have more that 90% efficacy.

Dr. Patel was born in Sojitra, a farming village in India’s Gujarat state. Her family was plunged into poverty when her father contracted tuberculosis. She had to borrow money for the bus fare to school and went there in ragged clothes and barefoot. Her brilliance later enabled her to win scholarships that led to two master’s degrees in applied microbiology and biotechnology in India and the United States.

 

Hanneke Schuitmaker – Johnson & Johnson – Netherlands

Dr. Hanneke Schuitemaker 57, received $1 billion in funding from Johnson & Johnson to lead vaccine development trials in her lab in Leiden in the Netherlands. Dr. Schuitemaker is a Dutch virologist and a Professor of Virology at the Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam. She is also the Global Head of Viral Vaccine Discovery and Translational Medicine at Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Vaccines & Prevention. 

She has been intensively involved in the development of vaccines for HIV and Ebola. Her work on infectious diseases in West Africa enabled her to apply the underlying technologies of these vaccines in the search for a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Schuitemaker also recognised through her work on Ebola in West Africa, the importance of communities adopting health and safety practices in tandem with vaccination to help control the pandemic. 

 

China, India, Russia

There are three other female senior scientists who reportedly led their nation’s development of a vaccine, but it is difficult to get independently verifiable information about the vaccines and about them. If confirmed then these scientists have created vaccines for nations that are the most populous on the globe. They are: Major-General Chen Wei, from the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences, who was awarded the People’s Hero title for her leadership roles in the development of Sinopharma and CanSino vaccines; Dr. Sumanthy K who led the development of Covaxin in India; Elena Smolyarchuk, Director of the Centre of Clinical Research of Medicines at Sechenov University in Moscow who was the study chair for the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

 

Acknowledging Women Scientists

“You know, I’m a woman and that’s encouraging to see that women brought the vaccine to the market,” said Dr Nita Patel of Novavax. 

The creation of the Covid19 vaccines represents not only a scientific breakthrough. It is also a breakthrough in the position of women in science. And in particular, women over 50 in science. Let’s acknowledge that. And when the Nobel Prize and other prestigious awards are made, let’s ensure that women scientists do not remain invisible.

 

Woman Going Places

WomanGoingPlaces – a Social Enterprise Advocating for Australian Women Aged 50+

Why have we established WomanGoingPlaces as a social enterprise advocating for the economic security and social inclusion of Australian women aged 50+?

In Australia, the US, England and indeed globally, older women are facing significant economic insecurity and social exclusion, particularly since the pandemic. Over a million Australian women 50+ are already below the poverty line and more than 400,000 are homeless. They are the demographic becoming homeless in greatest numbers at the fastest rate.

WomanGoingPlaces is dedicated to spotlighting this crisis and to advocating for action. Our journalism identifies the broader issues of the position of women 50+ in our society. We campaign against the barriers, discrimination and general invisibility we face. This is our social purpose.

Society is entering new territory and older women are its pioneers. Women aged 50 can expect to have almost another half a century of life. Millions of women around the world are living into their 90s and this is unprecedented in human history. Unlike previous generations, many older women have had access to education, the professions and skilled employment, in addition to unpaid and manual labour.

But governments and societies around the world have no idea what to do with an ageing population of women. By 2030, 28.7% of Australians will be aged 55 and over. *  The majority will be women.  Women over 50 already represent 35% out of the total Australian female population of 12.9 million.*

There are no policies and no roadmaps for such a radical change in the composition of society and the impact it will have on the economy.

Instead, this whole issue is overlooked, ignored and cloaked with a mantle of invisibility by governments, business, the media, and sometimes even some women’s organisations.

Examples of Invisibility

Some recent examples:

When the Australian Federal Government promoted Budget 2021 as a Women’s Budget, funds were allocated for women with children in childcare and for women in aged care. But nothing for women in between those age groups, and no social housing to address their homelessness.

Quite the opposite. The Federal Government has cut funding to unemployed older women who constitute the majority on Jobseeker thereby accelerating their impoverishment.

When Tim Reed, the president of the Business Council of Australia stated that “participation of women in the workforce is the biggest lever Australia has to expand the economy,”  he must realise that the pink recession cannot be overcome as long as half of the business leaders surveyed in a report by the Human Rights Commission and Australian HR Institute said they would not employ anyone over 50. Ageism is depriving Australia of this massive resource of highly experienced professionals and skilled workers.

When an important recent study by an authoritative women’s group extolled flexibility to enable greater participation, advancement and equality of women in the workforce, it principally looked at women with children. The study did not  reference the needs of older women who no longer have children at home or who have no children. Flexibility would also encourage these older women into the workforce in greater numbers albeit for a different set of reasons.

When a national conference was recently held by leading Australian women to promote gender equality and to comprehensively examine the barriers faced by different groups of women, women 50+ did not even make it on to the conference program.

When the media covers domestic violence, it does not report that almost a third of women killed by men are over the age of 50. Nor does the media sufficiently report that sexual assault and rape is committed against women of all ages. It took the Royal Commission to reveal that there are over 50 cases  of sexual assault per week in residential aged care. 

Nor is there sufficient coverage in the media of women defying the stereotypes of older women. Older women are in fact forging remarkable careers and making a difference. It is actually women over 50 who make up the majority of start-up and small business entrepreneurs. Ironically, many have been forced to do this because they couldn’t find employment due to age discrimination.

Women 50+ are society’s unlikely innovators, re-inventing ourselves, and re-defining how women age.     WomanGoingPlaces will continue to tell the stories of women doing exactly that.

In order to be sustainable and grow our social impact, we are asking for your support. Please subscribe or donate to WomanGoingPlaces. You can choose HERE the amount you wish to pay for your subscription or donation. Subscribers or those making donations will receive quality original articles, interviews and analysis delivered direct to your Inbox.

Thank you for your support

Augustine Zycher

Founder & Editor  WomanGoingPlaces

  • Source, ABS Population Projections Australia  
  • Source ABS Population as at June 2020, Australia

Intergenerational Report

The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in presenting the Intergenerational Report recognised that Australia has an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. The Report finds that one of the best ways of boosting the workforce and national productivity is through the employment of older women, including women over 65.
Surprise! Surprise!
Had the Treasurer subscribed to WomanGoingPlaces he would have seen that we have been advocating for this for some time now. Women over 50 are a massive national resource. They possess vast experience and knowledge as professionals and skilled workers. But the Morrison Government has treated them as a burden on the public purse.
It has slashed funding for older women on Jobseeker to $44 p.d. The pension has been held below the poverty line. As a result, increasing numbers of older women have become impoverished and homeless. At the same time, the Government has also discriminated against older women in recent Budgets by excluding them from funding and programs for workforce training and re-skilling, and reserved these just for young people.
The number of Australian women aged 50+ is 4,567,882. Of these, 1,776,400 are employed as at April 2021. The number currently looking for work is 80,900. But actually it is much higher because so many have given up as a result of rampant ageism amongst employers. Obviously not all women 50+ want to work, but tens of thousands who either have to work to survive or who prefer to work are being kept out of the workforce by both Government policy and ageist employment practices.
Perhaps this Intergenerational Report will make us all realise what a waste of potential this is not only for the women, but also for the Australian economy.
And for those who question what contribution women 50+ can make, remember Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert 58, Dr. Katalin Karikó 66 and Dr. Kathrin Jansen 63, the scientists behind AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Australia’s Ominous Social Crisis

Australia has never before witnessed the sort of ominous social crisis that is unfolding now.
Australia has never before had a demographic defined by age and gender, plunged into poverty and homelessness on a mass scale.
There are already more than 400,000 women over the age of 50 for whom this is a reality. It is a outcome of government policies, gender inequality and social prejudice. There are more women aged 50+ on Jobseeker than any other group. They suffered disproportionate job losses during Covid but are excluded from national recovery plans. There is talk of childcare plans in Budget 2021, but what plans are there to avoid economic disaster facing older women?
Over half of Australian businesses will not hire them according to a recent report by the AHRC. Nevertheless they will lose their Centrelink payment if they don’t apply for 20 jobs per month. On $44 per day they probably cannot afford to both eat and pay rent, let alone pay for the internet to look for jobs. The latest analysis shows a person on Jobseeker can afford just    3 out of 74,000 rentals across the whole country. It is estimated that 28 per cent of women aged 55-64 in private rental accommodation are likely to be at risk. For part-time or non-full time employees this figure rises to 34 percent.
It’s almost winter and you can already see them sleeping in their cars and in parks around Australia. Even last year they were crowding emergency wards at hospitals suffering from hypothermia.

The social crisis directly impacting women over 50 is going to get a whole lot worse. ABS figures show that the number of Australian women living alone is expected to increase by 27-58 per cent by 2041. Most have little or no superannuation.

Poverty is essentially a choice made by the Government. We saw this during Covid when people were raised from below the poverty line & the homeless were housed. If Budget 2021 fails to address the economic, social and housing disaster faced by older women then the Government bears direct responsibility for this escalating social crisis.

Older Female Workers

A perfect storm is facing hundreds of thousands of unemployed, underemployed and underpaid older female workers.

First, the Federal Budget 2021-2022 completely overlooked them. 

The Treasurer said job creation was a top priority in this Budget. It was also promoted as a Budget for women. In this spirit, funds were allocated to childcare for women with young children. And funds were allocated to people in aged care, the majority of whom are women. But, if you fall between these two age groups, if you are a female worker aged over 50, then the Budget had a clear message – we don’t see you. There are no funds for you and you do not even rate a mention. 

It is a spectacular omission given that one of the defining characteristics of Covid19 has been that older women have been the hardest hit with job losses and the least likely to be re-employed.

There was nothing in the Budget to tackle the economic insecurity of women over 50 to prevent them from joining more than 400,000 women who already face impoverishment and homelessness.

Secondly, ageism is pervasive and growing both in Government and business.

The Budget offers training programs and apprenticeships but only for young people. Why? Women over 50 have had years in the workforce, skills and professional experience. Why freeze them out of opportunities to re-train? Why not mobilise this massive human capital to benefit both the country and these women? With widespread skills shortages it makes good social and economic sense to provide employment for these women, even if Australia were not cut off from foreign labour. But Australian working women over the age 50 are irrelevant to any economic recovery plan.

The latest finding of a survey of more than 600 business leaders by the Human Rights Commission& Australian HR Institute that found that 17% of respondents classified 51- to 55-year-old workers as “older”, compared with just 11 per cent in 2018. This research also found that nearly half of Australian businesses are reluctant to hire older workers. 

Thirdly, Federal Government is reaping plaudits for the big spending Budget, but unemployed older women who constitute the majority on Jobseeker are denied an increase above $44 a day to live on.

Surviving on $44 a day while looking for 20 jobs a month is impossible. And now we learn that a hidden $1.1 billion efficiency drive in the Budget will shift 1.2 million job seekers to an online service. If women already have to choose between eating and paying their rent they are unlikely to be able to afford the internet. As a result they will be forced off Jobseeker.

We are witnessing an escalating social crisis. But it is being largely ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Holgate, Australia Post and the Federal Government

Appearing before a special Senate inquiry, Christine Holgate presented a powerful and meticulously documented expose of the role of the Australia Post Board and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in her removal from her position as CEO of Australia Post. So convincing was her testimony, that she was able to do the unthinkable. She was able to unite Pauline Hanson, Bridget McKenzie, Sarah Hanson-Young and the rest of the committee behind her in exposing the duplicity and bullying that led to her removal.
The key points that emerged from Ms.Holgate’s appearance at the Senate committee hearing are that:
1. Ms.Holgate was humiliated by Prime Minister Morrison and bullied by the Chair of the Australia Post Board, Lucio Di Bartolomeo.
2. Ms.Holgate was an extremely successful and popular CEO, a woman of integrity who did nothing illegal or particularly extravagant. The Australia Post Board approved the watches as a bonus for a remarkably beneficial achievement by staff for Australia Post.
3. Ms. Holgate did not resign but intended to take sick leave. The Chair then initiated her removal through a series of highly questionable acts. So much so, that Pauline Hanson argued that in fact due to this improper process, Ms.Holgate is still legally under contract the CEO of Australia Post.
4. Ms.Holgate said she was “going through hell” and “ suicidal” in desperation over the injustice of her treatment and the lies fabricated by the Chair. As Ms. Holgate pointed out, there are males in the Cabinet facing much more serious charges, but only she was forced to go.
5. The Chair was acting on the directive of PM Morrison who dismissed Ms.Holgate in a speech from the floor of Parliament.
6. Bottom line: The Government wanted Ms. Holgate removed because she opposed the secret report of the Boston Consulting Group that reportedly planned privatisation of Australia Post. One of the key reasons for Ms.Holgate’s opposition was because it would mean the firing of thousands of staff from Australia Post and the closing of branches that are so vital particularly in rural areas.
The members of the Australia Post Board were all required to appear in person before the Senate committee at the end of April. However, they did not do so. Despite the ire of the committee, members of the Board failed to present in person but appeared on Zoom instead.
Ms.Holgate has managed to energise a groundswell of public support for her position, particularly amongst women.
They recognise that despite being remarkably successful in her leadership role, a female CEO is still treated very differently to the way a male leader is treated.
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When Women Roar

The March4Justice movement has achieved something remarkable for Australian women. It has transformed decades of private suffering into mass solidarity. 

For the first time, tens of thousands of women ended their silence about sexual abuse and injustice.

The ‘I’ has become the ‘We’.

The March4Justice protests that saw 110,000 people in 42 marches around the nation have not dissipated into silence. 

This is because Australian women have fundamentally changed their way of thinking. 

Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and Katherine Thornton together ignited this explosion of rage. Their courage set off a spontaneous combustion of deep reserves of trauma, shame and frustration buried beneath silence. Women have had enough.

The events of the last month drove home to them that it’s not an individual problem, but a society-wide bias against women seeking justice and equality. The system is rigged against women and girls. 

The misogyny is institutionalised

The biggest shock to most Australians was learning that Federal Parliament is one of the most unsafe workplaces for women in the country. Harassment, abuse and even sex crimes against women have not exacted a toll on anyone but the women who have been abused.

The entire structural framework of Government, law enforcement, the courts and social prejudice collectively have denied women justice. Collectively they have denied women effective recourse to the apparatus of state to protect them from rapists and sexual abusers. Collectively they have denied women the possibility of seeking punishment for perpetrators of sexual crimes. As Senator Eric Abetz confidently assured Tasmanian Liberal MP Sue Hickey:

“ Not to worry. The woman is dead and the law will protect” Attorney-General Christian Porter regarding the alleged rape.

Statistically this is undeniable. Ninety percent of sexual assault cases do not end up in court. The chances of a woman finding justice are minuscule compared to the reality that she will be re-traumatized and left with her reputation shredded. 

The revelations about Katherine Thornton were followed very carefully by women. They understood how the years of grief and and trauma had de-railed her life and potential for a remarkable career. They read that when she went to make a complaint to the police, she was forced to wait months for them to take a sworn statement from her. They never did. She killed herself. All calls for an independent investigative process have been rebuffed by the Government.

The identification of women with Kate, Brittany and Grace springs from shared experience. It’s about women acknowledging that as individual women they are powerless against a system that is built on their silence. It is a system that has left them with no option but silence. They won’t be believed if they speak up and they will most probably be slut shamed. Brittany was called “a lying cow” by one of the highest officers in the land, the Defence Minister of Australia.

The word of women has been discredited in order to protect the status and reputations of men. And that is why rapists are so confident they can successfully silence their victims.

But women are no longer prepared to remain silent and that’s what makes things so different now.

Two key factors have prevented the rage ignited by Grace, Brittany and Kate from being muffled.

Women journalists

First, the number of leading women journalists determined to prevent a cover-up. A team of women journalists across different networks has emerged in the forefront. It is perhaps the most striking proof that when women are present, the conversation changes dramatically. Without these highly experienced women journalists, unquestionably, the whole issue would have been dropped out of public discourse. Louise Milligan and Laura Tingle have continued to speak out despite the ABC having its funding slashed and facing litigation. Lisa Wilkinson, Samantha Maiden, Katherine Murphy, Tracy Grimshaw, Amy Remeikis and others have done exceptional work. 

Social media

The second key factor stopping the rage from being quashed is social media. 

Well may PM Morrison rail against social media. It is contributing to his demise. But it has nothing to do with its  ‘evil influences’ as he calls them.

Social media is a threat because it has removed the near monopoly the media oligarchs and the Government hold over public information and public discourse. This mutually beneficial connection between them is being challenged by a grass roots movement. Inordinate power is being democratised. 

Social media is giving individual, powerless women a voice. For most, it is the first time they have ever mentioned the sexual assault they had endured. As one woman came forward for the first time, another woman and another took courage and spoke up until it became a wildfire.

Women posted how old they were when they were first assaulted and the circumstances. The posts are horrifying.

It has happened to women at all ages, from the time they were toddlers to when they were in aged care.

Often it happened to three generations in the same families. 

It happened in their homes, schools, the street, their workplace – everywhere. It is perpetrated by their closest family members, neighbours, friends, teachers, co-workers, employers – every type of relationship. And it happens across all socio-economic demographics, backgrounds and religions.

It has always been like this. But what has changed now, is that many women have had enough of keeping it secret. They’ve had a lifetime of trauma and stigma, while the perpetrator in most cases walks away with impunity.

Despite their fear it will damage their reputations, they are now speaking out publicly, no longer accepting victim blaming.

And they have easy access to a national and international platform.

Without social media the March4Justice on March 15th could never have happened. On February 25, Janine Hendry was exploring the idea of having women link hands around the perimeter of Parliament House to protest against gendered violence, discrimination and inequality. She tweeted asking: “I need someone to tell me if this is possible. I then also need someone to estimate the distance and how many women we would need?”

And from that it rapidly morphed through Twitter and Facebook, with minimal organization and funding, into simultaneous national-wide marches.

Grace Tame exhorted women to make noise. And that’s exactly what they are doing. The momentum continues to grow. We have not yet seen the full repercussions of this movement.

999 Ways to Describe an Older Woman

The media attacks on Dr. Jill Biden remind us just how many people are offended by an older woman holding public office and not acting ‘her age’, even if she is the First Lady of the United States.

When Dr.Biden recently appeared in patterned tights and boots she was instantly condemned. Twitter users hurled sexist and ageist jokes at the 69-year-old educator. Numerous tweets called her names like “hag,” “hooker”, “trash and “witch”. One tweet advised that ” For an additional $29.99 Jill Biden could have accessorized her Halloween costume with the optional broom.”

In a society that values women primarily for their youthful beauty, sexual and reproductive powers, the more we age, the more our currency as women is devalued. 

And it is reflected in the language.

Some common names for women over 50 – old bag, granny, biddy, crone, hag, witch, harridan, bedlam, old bat, old boiler – are just some of the names we hear.

Google offers over 999+ adjectives to describe an older or old woman. They are uniformly pejorative: 

‘withered and bitter’; ’almost well-dressed’; ‘unnaturally lusty’; ‘crazy and uncanny’ ; ‘entirely uninteresting’, are some of the terms. Even the word ‘Boomer’ has become slurred and layered with connotations of greed and selfishness.

It worth noting that during the U.S. election campaign, Joe Biden was called “Sleepy Joe” as reference to his age. But when Hillary Clinton ran for president, she was pilloried as a “crone” capable of witchcraft. 

Mary Beard, who is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and the presenter of BBC Two’s Inside Culture said she is frequently branded a witch in an attempt to discredit her and older women generally. “Throughout many periods of history in the West there has been a real worry about what you do with women who are past their childbearing years. As I can confirm, women with long grey hair can make people anxious.”

There is nothing positive about the appellations for older women. 

They denote weakness, ugliness, helplessness and even evil.

They constitute a massive put down. 

But does it matter? What’s in a name you may ask?

Well, nomenclature and honorific reflect respect, status and even power. 

Or the lack thereof. 

They are fundamentally connected to value. 

Or the lack thereof.

It is important to point out the sharp dichotomy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians regarding appellations for older women. Indigenous older people, women and men, are collectively called ‘Elders’ and individually the women are addressed as ‘Aunty’. These are terms that denote respect. They reflect the status and position of authority that older women hold in First Nations society. They are valued as leaders and repositories of traditional stories, culture and law spanning 60,000 years. They are so valued that during Covid19, Indigenous communities made protection of their Elders their utmost priority. And they were very successful.

 Unlike traditional societies, we still haven’t come up with a respectful and value-enhanced term to describe older women. This paucity of positive appellations puts me in a real quandary whenever I write articles about women over 50. I have to use either the term ‘older women’, or try to remove value judgments by using the phrase ‘ women over 50’.  I wrote an article using the term ‘ We, the Matriarchs…’ but most women do not identify themselves as matriarchs.

What we call people reflects the value society assigns to them

The feminists of the 1960s understood the importance of nomenclature and honorific. That’s why one of the first things they did was change Mrs. and Miss to Ms. It was to give women a value and a way of being addressed independent of their relationship to a man. 

What we call people reflects the value society assigns to them. So our lack of respectful and value-enhanced terms to describe older women exactly reflects the negativity and discrimination towards them in society and that is translated into policy and action.

The widespread and well-documented age discrimination in the Australian workforce has directly led to women over 50 constituting the majority of those living below the poverty line. During Covid19, women over 50 were the first to lose their jobs and are the least likely ever to be re-employed despite their qualifications and experience. There are presently over 400,000 women over 45 at risk of homelessness in Australia.

This is Australia 2021.

Global crisis

Globally, prejudice and discrimination are now threatening the financial security and the very survival of so many older women in countries around the world. 

But most governments barely acknowledge the problem, let alone develop policies to deal with it. And what is extraordinary, is that we are not speaking about a small minority group. We are speaking about a significant demographic in Australia, the US, England and other countries. By 2030, one in three Australians will be over 55. The majority will be women.

Perhaps the problem is that so few countries are led by women over 50. Here too we can trace this back to attitudes about older women. Men on the public stage gain gravitas and authority as they age, women are considered enfeebled and inappropriate for the public stage.

It is encouraging therefore to see women over 50 becoming more visible in international forums as strong leadership figures – Kamala Harris, Janet Yellin, Nancy Pelosi in the U.S., Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde in the EU, Angela Merkel in Germany, Christine Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan. And most recently, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, the next Director General of the World Trade Organization.

But this does not change the fact that the major social crisis now affecting older women has remained, like the women themselves, largely invisible.  

What are we going to do about it?

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to Premier Daniel Andrews

Don’t fail Victorian women in the upcoming State Budget. The Federal Budget failed Australian women.

It is illusory to think that there can be economic recovery without the full participation of women of all ages.

Affordable childcare has to be a cornerstone of Victoria’s Budget.
Policies targeted at older women are another cornerstone.
So too is social housing.

The progressive exclusion of women 50+ from the workforce is one of the most serious violations of women’s rights in Australia & it is happening on a mass scale. As a result these women constitute the majority of unemployed, those on welfare and the homeless. The Victorian Budget can halt this process of impoverishment with incentives for employment instead of age discrimination policies such as JobMaker.

If you neglect this escalating social disaster,Victoria will bear both an uncontainable economic burden and social dislocation.

But if you mobilise these women with their accumulated professional expertise & skills, they can be key drivers of recovery, particularly in the expanding health and care sectors.

Deloitte Access Economics estimated pre-pandemic that a 3% increase in participation by the over 55s would generate a $33 billion annual boost to the national economy.

If the coming Budget is good for women, it will be good for Victoria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Shattering The Age Barrier

In all the tributes to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for shattering the barriers denying her and other women justice and equality, haven’t we overlooked what was staring us in the face? Justice Ginsburg was an old woman aged 87 when she died. And the last barrier she shattered was the one erected in the path of women when they reach the age of 50. 

RBG was at the height of her power and influence in the 27 years between the ages of 60 and 87. She was 60, when she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the age when most women are regarded as being way past their “use by” date.

Older women as a demographic group are at best ignored and at worst disdained. 

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, here I am and I’m staying as long as I can do my job.

It was so typical of her. Throughout her life, she led the way not only in her legal judgements, but by personal example. 

RBG showed that an old woman can be a leader and she can be powerful.

She demonstrated that ageing should not be a process of devaluation for a woman.

Just as she upheld the worth of every individual in the eyes of the law, so too she upheld the right of every woman to command respect and reject discrimination,  no matter her age.

If Ruth Bader Ginsburg Applied for a Job in Australia

But most probably, if Justice Ginsburg had taken off her robes and unrecognised, applied for a job in Australia, she would be treated the same way other women her age are treated. Most employers would consider her unemployable and refuse to give her work, and Government would resent such an unproductive person as a drain on resources. In a pandemic they might readily agree that she be sacrificed on the altar of economic recovery.

This is the way women over 50 are viewed in Australia. This is the thinking that informs Federal Government policy. And this is certainly the thinking that informed Budget 2020. It was a Budget that was bad for women generally, but disastrous for women over 50. It matters greatly because these women are sinking into a home- grown social catastrophe. 

Covid19 did not create this catastrophe, it just accelerated a process that has been going on for almost a decade. If anything, Covid19 spotlighted the fact that it is not just some individual women who are having difficulties for whatever personal reasons. 

Consequences of Discriminatory Policies towards Older Women

What we are seeing is the progressive exclusion of women over 50 from the workforce. It is one of the most serious violations of women’s rights in Australia and it is happening on a mass scale.

Despite the unemployment rate amongst women over 50 being amongst the highest as a result of Covid19, there was nothing in the Budget that even referred to this problem let alone set out measures to address it. There are a specific schemes for apprenticeships and hiring subsidies for young workers, but nothing for women who are unlikely every to be employed again. These schemes actually incentivise employers to drop older workers and get subsidised for younger ones. An existing Government plan for older unemployed people has been described as an “utter failure” with only half the amount pledged actually being spent and more than 40% of those receiving these wage subsidies being out of work within 3 months.

Despite being fully aware, for a number of years, that the majority of people on Newstart were older women and that they struggled to survive on $40 a day, the Government is cutting JobSeeker and putting the unemployed back on $40 a day. The Government is also fully aware that older women are the ones who will be on these unemployment payments for the longest periods. And it is quite likely that they will be unemployed for the next 15-17 years until they qualify for the pension. For older women, JobSeeker has now become a sort of pre-pension that keeps them in preliminary poverty before they get on to the permanent poverty of the pension, which remains unchanged at $10 below the poverty line.

Unemployment predictably leads to a cluster of disadvantage. Its key outcomes are impoverishment, homelessness and the lack of means to escape violent relationships. This is because women generally have fewer assets, savings and super to fall back on compared to male contemporaries. Consequently, homelessness amongst women over 50 is accelerating at an alarming rate. But there was nothing in the Budget that even referred to this problem, let alone addressed it with a policy of social housing. Even pre-pandemic, there were over 405,000 women in this age group at risk of homelessness. Now, with the rate of Jobseeker cut back, and eviction moratoriums and mortgage deferrals ending, this rate of homelessness is set to skyrocket. 

The Government policy of neglect towards older people is aggravating the economic decline of women 50+. 

The majority of people on welfare now are older women.

The majority of homeless are now older women.

Damaging to Economy

This policy is not only morally repugnant, it is also damaging to the economy.

It represents a spectacular waste of human capital. These women possess decades of workplace experience, skills and professional expertise. 

There was only one Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she was not alone. She led the generations of women now over 60 who, like her, were the first to enter the universities and break into the professions and the workforce in record numbers in the 1960s and 70s. These women went where others had not gone before them. And these are the women now being forced out of the workforce because of age discrimination.

Women over 50 as Key Drivers of the Economy

As a consequence of Covid19, the Australian workforce has shrunk by a million workers. Without immigrants and with low population growth we do not have the human resources to fuel economic recovery. Women with children must be enabled through affordable childcare to return to the workforce. But in addition, there is the invaluable resource of older women. Deloitte Access Economics estimated pre-pandemic that a 3% increase in participation by the over 55s would generate a   $33 billion annual boost to the national economy.

The view of women over 50 as key drivers of the economy is strongly upheld by Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of ‘The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.’ When these women are employed and have purchasing power, they become the “chief consumer of an entire demographic wave”. Coughlin estimates this fast growing market to be worth $20 trillion globally.

The reality is that Australia has an ageing population and by 2030 one in four Australians will be 65+. The majority will be women.                                                         

The Federal Government can continue to neglect older women or it can mobilize them in a way that both benefits the women and the economy. Otherwise, as women continue to fall off the cliff in ever increasing numbers, we will know they were pushed.