Chile: Feminization of Old Age

Photo: El Mostrador

By Javiera Duvauchelle and Paula Pérez (El Mostrador)

HAVANA TIMES – The approach to the phenomenon of aging, whose importance grows daily in Chile, has certain characteristics in our society.  Particularly relevant is the persistence of a historical gender gap that shapes various aspects of aging, especially in regards to older women. 

At present, Chilean women enjoy longer lives than men, but does living longer mean living better? As life spans increase, the period beyond 80 years —when compared to that between 60 and 80 —in one in which women age in worse socioeconomic conditions (Fundación Sol) and suffer from a higher level of chronic diseases (Minsal 2019).  The fact that there are more women of advanced ages also means that they are most likely to serve as caregivers of the elderly, and indeed according to the study by Chile Cuida, SENAMA,  86%  of elder care is provided by women.  Overall, women in Chile face a number of inequities. They are, on average, older than men, have lower levels of education, have more precarious work lives, and are more likely to experience greater health problems.

But is it the case these inequalities and inequities begin when we women reach 60 years of age? Certainly not. Rather, as various research studies have shown, discrimination is present throughout the course of a woman’s life.

For example, Chilean women are more likely to work in jobs with worse contractual conditions, lower salaries, and with fixed-terms (which translates, according to Fundación Sol, into receiving pensions that are 27% lower than men’s). They are also more likely to be exposed to physical and psychological violence from their partners, a phenomenon that has increased by 70% during the pandemic in couple relationships (Sernameg). 

In addition, women also do a disproportionate amount of caregiving, not only in terms of household chores but also in providing long-term care to dependent people. This roll is taken on in 96.6% of cases by women, which keeps them from being active in other work (Fundación Sol). The figure is even higher, 98% in a study by the Yo Cuido association in 2019.  Thus, if we add gender to the existing social discrimination against the elderly, a double discrimination results: that of being a woman and that of being old.

Given the current push for governmental and constitutional change, it is urgent that the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity address the phenomenon of the feminization of old age. This ministry, created in 2015 under the mandate of former President Michelle Bachelet, is charged with helping to design, coordinate, and evaluate policies, plans and programs aimed at promoting gender equity, equal of rights and the elimination of all forms of arbitrary discrimination against women. However, public policies for gender equity seem to be focused on young adult or middle-aged women, rather than on the concerns of older women. 

Resolving the feminization of old age in Chile should begin by integrating into its policies aimed at the elderly not only a model of Rights -which means that the policy is rooted in the recognition of human rights under equal conditions- but also a gendered perspective. The goal here is to make visible, and thus correct, gender inequalities and inequities.

The Ministry of Women and Gender Equity has the power to work in coordination with the existing network of offices and institutions to generate a comprehensive response to the needs of older women.   These efforts should address not only the factors that impact individual health, but also the social, cultural, economic, and geographic factors that determine our well-being and quality of life.

Through education and by raising awareness, and by using the tools that are already at our disposal, we can transcend what experience has taught us is inevitable.  We are all agents of change.

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