In case of ‘Women’s Empowerment’ do we think of ‘All Women’ to make them ‘empowered’, or we do work with a section of women those who are ‘physically able’, mostly engaged in economic development activities and within the age group of 18 – 59 years, in most cases? What about the ‘elderly women’? Can we imagine what a distressed life they have to lead even in an ‘empowered’ woman’s family (e.g. in Southeast Asia look at a family with a young ‘empowered’ daughter-in-law and her elderly Mother-in-law living together in the same family!)?

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It is not called empowered woman's family if  there is distress . Yes  we must include all women- specially abled, disabled or generally able.

Dear Minal,

Thank you so much for your comment.

Let's do work together to materialize it.

Warm regards,

Bhabatosh NATH

Dear Bhabatosh:

I agree that there is an unacceptably low priority put on programming and research on older women in most societies  

Your question does bring to mind two papers that show how HIV and AIDS has been a catalyst for more age and gender research.  

Richards, EstherZalwango, FlaviaSeeley, JanetScholten, Francien and Theobald, Sally (2013) 'Neglected older women and men: Exploring age and gender as structur...'. African Journal of AIDS Research, Vol 12, Issue 2, pp. 71-78.  Stella Nyanzi's research on widowed mama grannies in Kampala also comes to mind.  

Helpage International (, which is devoted to programming for older women and men, evaluates their programmes (  My understanding is that they are trying to improve the gender responsiveness of their MEL.  

Thank you for raising this question.



Dear Beryl,

It is so nice of you to respond on this discussion issue.

Thank you very much for sharing the links. These are very helpful learning materials.

Please keep in touch and let's continue our sharing.

Warm regards,

Bhabatosh NATH

The Ugandan Community Life CompetenceTeam formed which included URAA, Elders Concern Uganda (ECU), Health Nest Uganda (HENU) and Representatives of Older Persons at Local Community used Constellation's community life competence approach to stimulate the strength of the local elderly communities to respond to their issues particularly HIV. This project was funded by WHO. Project not only demonstrated the strengths of elderly and stimulated them to act but also saw engagement of youth in issues of older people. Research demonstrated positive changes in care and support of older people particularly old women. Read more

Here are two photos from the project

Dear Mamara,

Thank you so much for sharing the link and the posters.

This is great of you to share the experiences, ideas to widen our expertise and so to activate us in the relevant fields.

Please keep in touch and continue our contact.

Warm regards,

Bhabatosh NATH

I find being an older American woman in 2014 who is 62 years old a frightening and identity-negating experience. Younger people push by me, cut me off in their cars, take over my swimming lane and gym equipment I am using without asking and most frustrating of all, my comments and ideas in meetings are ignored.  Strangers no longer make eye contact with me.  Movies, books, and TV programs are aimed at a much younger audience and the main characters are rarely older than 40 years. I don't know of any programs developed or implemented for my demographic.  

And this is a glaring oversight.  We have many issues and strengths that either need support or could be explored for providing guidance and support to others.  Our skills and knowledge are based on a lifetime of experience.  Our needs are the same way (both physical and emotional needs change significantly during the 50s).  Our culture and social norms let us down in so many fundamental ways that a brief blog response can't even begin to address.

Dear Ann,

Thank you very much for mentioning the issue of 'a brief blog response'. I think this is one of the strong communication means through which we could raise our voices, share experiences, even could 'change' the 'odd' social situations in many cases. You see....through this blog discussion- you, me and other friends have already started sharing our ideas, cases, ways etc. on 'Women's empowerment' (I do appreciate the replies of Beryl Leach, Namara Arthur and Sandra Basgall where we have some ideas, cases to understand the situation). You have mentioned that your 'comments and ideas in meetings are ignored'. This is really a 'frustrating' situation in a 'development' country like 'USA'. You know, these 'Younger' people can't realize (or don't like to think even!) that once they would also be older...what would be happened then for them? .......let's make them understand the reality, let's start 'joint' program with them, in collaboration with younger and older people, in together. TV programs, learning sessions, dialogues etc. could be designed jointly. In this case, I think the respective country/ government has the major role to 'empower' all its citizens irrespective of age, gender, race and religion.

Personally, I don't like to be 'frustrated' rather I am optimistic that through sharing our ideas, experiences in blogs, discussion channels we could come into consensus on an issue, find out ways to form working groups in our own areas/countries.  Not only to continue our discussions from years to years...., but to 'act' on the issues through forming 'working team', 'working group' should be our motto. In this regard counseling, advocacy programs could be undertaken at local, regional and country levels. Let’s activate the civil societies, development organizations, donors, national level policy-makers and respective government departments to implement programs in that way. We also need to do work at policy level as well. I believe, once they will come forward to work with us. At the same time, we, through our personal initiative (like Sandra Basgall mentioned about her work in Bangladesh) could start some work at grassroots level. It might be very small but we could create ‘examples’ to replicate, to widen the program, globally.          


In working in Bangladesh, I found that all elderly, not just women, were invisible and are perhaps the most vulnerable population.  In doing a couple of focus groups, we found that men were not able to access their retirement as they did not have the money to travel to the regional capital to apply or if they did, they were asked for bribes for a free service which they would not pay.  The same was true of women for their widow's benefits.  In most countries like Bangladesh, the children which the elderly were relying on to take care of them in their old age were moving to the cities or migrating to other countries to work and the elderly had not heard from them in years.  I am sure the burden is more on women than men just because of women's traditional burdens, but more research has to be done to verify this.

By the way, I am supporting a small project in a village I work in to register the elderly.  It costs me about $100 a month and I am looking for ways to get the project broadened, first to the district and then to the country.  I think we forget we can be agents of change in other ways than just the work we do.

I would like to just add that this trend mirrors what happened in the United States and I bet in other richer countries and it was not until FDR initiated Social Security that the elderly had a way out of this situation.  Before SS, 80% of elderly lived below the poverty line, today only 20% do (which is way too much).

By the way, I a 72 years of age and started collecting SS at 70 as I was and am still working in development.

Dear Sandra,

It is so nice of you to share your experiences. These are very practical. You are very right that in our country migration of men and as a result the vulnerability of women increases day by day, and the burden on women than men is much more. Yes, it needs some more ‘in-depth’ study on this burning issue.  Let’s do it jointly, and share your ideas in this regard.

I personally believe on 'empowering all women' (in reality, compared with women, men are more empowered even in their old age, and so, start with 'women' first!) in the family, in the society and at country level.  

You know that in our country there are some programs run by government and donors. But these all are just to ‘help’ the elderly women (like old age allowance, widow allowance etc.) for the time-being. I am not against of these supports; these are under government ‘Safety-net’ program and these help some family financially, to some extent. But these supports are not for ‘empowering’ women in their own family rather in the society they are treated as ‘subject of social pity’ (like ‘beggar’).  ‘We’ know this is the ‘right’ of a widow, elderly women, but the community people in general don’t know about it at all.

In practical, what we see, the elderly women those who have asset ownership like if they have land, have money at bank or in cash, they are ‘valued’ by other family members including their sons, and they are ‘empowered’ at family level. At society level they further need some more skills like free movement ability, vocabulary skill, leadership capability, act as group leaders, linkage to political party, compete in local election as public representatives etc. to establish them as ‘empowered’ women. In Bangladesh there are women like this category both in rural and urban areas, though the number is very small.  

But what about other major portion of elderly women those have no money, no asset of their ‘own’? They are neglected by almost everybody in their family, even by other elderly men, other women and by their sons, daughter-in-laws and so on….. As mentioned by you in this discussion, they are ‘invisible’, ‘neglected’ by the government, and I can say, even neglected by the women organizations (very frustrated!) who are working for ‘women’s empowerment’. What we could do for them? This could not be solved only to extend government ‘safety-net-program’ like in Bangladesh. But they also need supports from us, from civil society, from NGOs, from women organizations, from government, even from private sectors to establish them financially and socially.

For an example, most of the NGOs/ Microfinance Institutes (MFIs) set their criteria of selecting ‘clients’, basically women (group members) from the age group of 18 to 55 years. But in Bangladesh we are habituated to see that in rural areas many women at their age of 70 – 75 years can rear cattle, poultry birds, doing vegetable gardening, running small grocery shop at their household level. In general, if we look closely at elderly women and men, what we could see? They are so experienced on ‘life’ and ‘livelihoods’, the young generation could increase their knowledge through sharing practical experiences of the elders’ (could we not buy ‘advice’ from those experienced people? ……if we can buy ‘advice’ from ‘advisers’ of other countries for a simple issue, for example, like traditional agricultural product at rural area!). Why the development organizations can’t see it? If we really like to empower the elderly women, we should start from now to design our development program in such a way that the women even at their age of 70+ would have savings money, have some land and /or other assets so that they would be strong enough to establish their rights, to prove them as ‘productive’ women and I think it is one of the ways of empowering them in the family and in the society.      

If we look at the young ladies who are now earning money and have some assets like house/ building, household materials(TV, freeze)  etc., they are being valued by their family members and as well as by the society. What they need at this stage? They would have to understand that once they would be older, and so, they should save money, buy assets, develop leadership quality so that at their old age they could lead their life as they do it now.         

Finally, Sandra, would it be possible to contact you (when you are in Bangladesh or in your present address). I like to do work in this sector as you mentioned in your discussion. I love to see me as a 'Change Agent' and working together with you. That would be great!

Warm regards,

Bhabatosh NATH 


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