Tag Archives: Women

A Snapshot of Violence Against Elderly Women in Tanzania

Photo Credit: Andrea Moroni
Photo Credit: Andrea Moroni

The African Union has proclaimed 2016 African Year of Human Rights, with a special focus on the rights of women. As the continent celebrated International Women’s Day this past March, it not only took the time to commemorate African women, but also to remind and encourage its citizens to address the obstinate gender inequalities that inhibit women from actualizing their human rights.

However, despite Africa’s attempts to reconcile women’s issues, abuse against elderly women remains a serious problem. Violence against elderly women takes many forms that range from sexual violence to property grabbing and other such financial rights abuses. Additionally, extreme violence increases against older women if they are accused of witchcraft.

According to the United Nations, witchcraft accusations are used to warrant extreme violence against older women in 41 African and Asian countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania. HelpAge International, an organization that works to help senior citizens live a more dignified and healthy life, reports that disabled, poor, vulnerable or widowed older women are often faced with allegations of witchcraft for reason such as:

  • Surviving a husband
  • Being seen as having little economic value or biological productivity
  • Possessing certain characteristics like red eyes or eccentric behavior
  • Miscarrying or losing a child
  • Living alone

HelpAge International has prioritized this issue by implementing projects that seek to challenge norms that are detrimental to the elderly in these societies. The organization has seen a 99 percent success rate and decline in the killing of older women in these areas. However, the killings continue to climb outside of such project areas.

For example, Nyamizi, a 73 year old widow from Sukumaland, Tanzania, was attacked by a man with a machete as she was returning home from work one night. The attacker chopped off her hand and lacerated her head, leaving her unconscious. Nyamizi believes she was targeted by a neighbor whose child had died, and who was told by a traditional healer that she was responsible for the death using witchcraft.

Nyamizi’s story is not unique. The Tanzanian Legal and Human Rights Centre reports that between 2004 and 2009, more than 2,585 older women were killed in eight different regions of Tanzania due to allegations of witchcraft. A follow-up report published by The Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) estimated that 765 people accused of practicing witchcraft were killed in the east African nation in 2013, 505 of whom were women. This figure has only increased from 630 in 2012.

The LHRC explains that the belief in witchcraft cuts through all strata of society, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old. Therefore, unless this entrenched cultural belief is effectively addressed, allegations of witchcraft will remain a serious threat to the lives of elderly women. In the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “As long as one woman’s human rights are violated, our struggle is not over…”.

Andria Reta covers Africa for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.


Integrating Alternative Medicine with Geriatric Care in Australia

In the last 20 years, aromatherapy in geriatric care has grown extensively especially in the Oceania region. This treatment uses plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. Age-related conditions such as dementia and arthritis as well as respiratory diseases, blood pressure and skin changes can benefit greatly from aromatherapy.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A survey from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) identified significant use of self-prescribed complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for back pain regardless of education, income or urban/rural residency. CAM was among a range of care options but the study found that a large number of women aged 60-65 self-prescribed one or more CAM for back pain in the previous 12 months. The most common self-prescribed CAM was supplements, vitamins/minerals, yoga/meditation, herbal medicines and aromatherapy oils.

It was further noted that women who visited health professionals three or more times in the previous 12 months were more likely to self-prescribe CAM for back pain than those who did not. This study was useful in exploring the prevalence and characteristics of women who self-prescribe CAM for back pain. Medical professionals can integrate alternative medicine with geriatric care to treat ailments and improve quality of life for older adults.

While aromatherapy helps with a number of diseases, studies have mixed results when it comes to treating agitated behaviour in people with dementia. One study found that lavender oil had no discernible effect on affect and behaviour in Australian nursing home residents while another study reported that despite a downward trend in behaviours displayed, no intervention significantly reduced disruptive behaviour. These findings are important because older adults respond differently to alternative medicine. Individual needs must be considered and health professionals can assess the effectiveness of CAM.

Aromatherapy is a great way to manage symptoms of a chronic illness or relieve age-related discomfort. For instance, complementary therapy in palliative care such as Massage/aromatherapy, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch™ enhances regular symptom management, increases comfort, and more. This can help support the immune system as people get older. Aromatherapy is becoming increasingly popular especially since it improves quality of life during the aging process.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Homelessness Among Older Women in Australia

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan
                                                                                 Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan

According to the 2011 Australian Census, 36 percent of the older homeless population comprises of women. While men are more likely to experience homelessness across their lifespans in Australia, women are more likely to first experience homelessness after the age of 50. Issues of homelessness among older women in Australia have been described as a symptom of entrenched social and economic issues that compound, and then implode later in life. Financial disadvantages, often caused by poor educational opportunities and/or work history may be setting the stage for homelessness among older Australian women.

Other factors influencing this problem include pay gaps between men and women (which have been noted to be as high as 17-18 percent over the span of a career), poor superannuation savings for retirement, domestic problems (such as divorce, separation, or domestic violence), personal health crises, and a lack of affordable housing. Due to many of these factors, women are more likely to experience poverty than men, which in turn can cause homelessness. These challenges are unique to women, and potential solutions may lie in addressing the structural inequalities that put women at risk in the first place.

The cost of housing has also been cited as a contributing problem, where both affordability and availability can be a challenge. Across the Australian continent, nearly 500,000 low-and moderate-income earners are unable to buy or rent homes. Women at or nearing retirement age seem to be making up a growing subsection of this demographic.

Relationship breakdowns also contribute to homelessness, as they often leave financially dependent women in a vulnerable position. According to the Housing for the Aged Action Group, 70 percent of the women seeking assistance from their organization are women living in poverty as a result of a relationship breakdown. Many of the women at risk of homelessness are facing these challenges for the first time in their lives.

The implications for homelessness among older adults can be far reaching. Older adults who experience homelessness likely do not have access to the physical and mental healthcare that is essential for healthy aging. Older homeless adults may also be at an increased risk for premature mortality. A study conducted in the U.S. found life expectancy among the homeless population to be 10 or more years shorter than the general population.

In global studies of homelessness among the aging, it has been found that contributing factors to this problem tend to be a reflection of structural issues (such as fewer job opportunities or poor housing availability) more so than personal risk factors (such as mental illness or substance abuse). In general, more work needs to be done to identify the potential causes and subsequent risks for homelessness among older adults. As a whole, there is an urgent need to advocate for preventative structural measures that can mitigate the risk of vulnerability among older adults in Australia, as well as elsewhere in the world.

Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at the Kent State University College of Public Health.

Battling Beauty Stereotypes in Brazil’s Older Women

If you have ever watched a Brazilian telenovela, you might notice that older women look unrealistically younger than the characters they portray, with the help of botox or other “medical miracles”. Older women in Brazil face pressure to look young, not gain weight, and maintain top physical appearance. As women age, their metabolism slows down and wrinkles tend to appear on their faces. This can lead to body image dissatisfaction, which is a distorted perception of appearance that leads an individual to unhealthy lifestyle, weight issues, and/or depression. Such distortion is common among older women in Brazil and having a negative impact on the mental and physical health of this population.

Photo Credit: CarolinaAURO
Photo Credit: CarolinaAURO

Body image dissatisfaction is often discussed in the context of teenage girls. It may cause eating disorders where girls may choose to eat less or vomit after eating, in an effort to maintain a certain physique. Thus, the choices made in adolescence can have a lifelong impact on the health of an individual. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are eating disorders that have been linked to low bone mineral density and osteoporosis in teenage years. Both disorders also impact older women. In fact, anorexia nervosa is more likely to cause death in women over 65 than girls or women under 65.

Body image dissatisfaction is a direct result of ageism in society, and the fear of getting older. Older adults may feel less relevant or unwanted if they do not maintain youthful appearances. In a population-based study in southern Brazil, researchers found that women over the age of 50 were most likely to be concerned that they weighed too much. Older men were also more likely to be dissatisfied with their weight than younger men, but the magnitude of the dissatisfaction was smaller than women.

The need to look young in aging women has its roots in an ageist society, where older women are not valued as much as their younger counterparts. Changes in skin and weight are a natural part of aging but in Brazil, many women fear any weight gain. While the solution to this problem is unclear, the media can play a great role by portraying older women who have aged naturally. This population should be able to feel comfortable with their appearance as this may challenge beauty stereotypes and reduce the stigma of growing older. Media, however, is only a small part of the problem and it is clear that older women need to be valued for their contributions to society.

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.