2015 National Policy Forum Communiqué

Gender and Ageing

A capacity audience turned out to discuss ‘Gender and Ageing’ at COTA Australia’s annual National Policy Forum, held at the National Press Club in Canberra on 2 July 2015. An impressive group of speakers and the Forum delegates shared research, analysis, on-theground experience, viewpoints and ideas for policy change to improve both gender equity and the quality of life for all in later years.

The Forum placed the gender lens onto the following key policy areas as they affect older Australians: workforce participation; income security and wealth distribution; housing and homelessness; care giving and receiving; and health and wellbeing.

Each session generated principles, policy directions and specific ideas for change to address the needs of older Australians, from a gender perspective. The outcomes from the Forum sessions will be analysed in greater detail by COTA Australia and will help inform our strategy and priorities.

COTA also filmed the Forum and will create summary products in due course that will be available to participants and a broader audience. The Forum used a mixed program format, involving prepared presentations in only some sessions. These will also be made available on the COTA website. The key, overarching themes that emerged across Forum discussions are:

  • Older Australians are not an homogenous group, despite being largely treated as such in public policy and the media, and to some extent in our social culture.
  • The experience of life in older age differs by gender, with the most notable demographic factor being that on average women live longer lives than men.
  • The starkest gender inequity is older women’s lower economic status compared to older men, leading to poorer outcomes now and into the future in a number of incomedependent areas such as housing.
  • There are also significant concerns around mental health and social inclusion for some older men.
  • Intersex and transgender people face a number of challenges in older age including social recognition and access to services.
  • Gender experience in later life also differs according to factors like ethnicity, culture, language, class, sexuality, health status and even age within the older population.
  • Gender outcomes in older age are created over the life course through cultural, social and economic factors, so greater gender equity in later life is dependent on greater gender equity throughout life.
  • Nonetheless, it is possible to mitigate the existing gender inequity amongst older people, as well as improving quality of life for all, through better social and economic policy settings and targeted actions.
  • There is no such thing as the ‘average older Australian’, so government policies and programs using this as their target group and ignoring gender and other diversity characteristics cannot be fully effective.
  • The gender lens (along with other factors of diversity) needs to be applied to the development and evaluation of all government policy and programs (including those aimed at older Australians) to ensure that they are targeting the correct need and are fit-for-purpose in how they operate.

COTA Australia thanks all the speakers and participants at the 2015 National Policy Forum and sees the event as opening up greater informed debate and action around gender and ageing issues.