Elderly Women

 August 21, 2015

(A) Efforts and Progress

1. The Chinese government has been attaching great importance to the issue of an ageing population, and gender awareness has begun to be included in mainstream decision making

By the end of 2013, China had a population of 202 million aged 60 and above, or 14.9 percent of the total. Thus, it has the largest ageing population and a rapid pace of ageing among the developing countries. In coping with the challenges and opportunities for socio-economic development brought by an ageing population, in October 1999 the State Council established the National Work Committee for the Elderly to deliberate on and coordinate the work for elderly citizens. Its membership draws from 27 ministries and commissions and other organizations. In August 2000, the Central Party Committee and the State Council introduced the Decision of the Central Party Committee and the State Council on Strengthening the Work for the Elderly (Central Party Committee document No. 13, 2000). The State Council promulgated the 10th Five-year Plan, 11th Five-year Plan, and 12th Five-year Plan in 2001, 2006, and 2011 respectively, which serve as important guidelines for the elderly-related work. In January 2013, the newly amended Law of the People's Republic Of China on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly Citizens was issued and implemented. In September 2013, the State Council issued the Suggestions on Strengthening Development of Services for the Elderly (State Council document No 35, 2013). And in February 2014 the State Council issued the Suggestions on the Establishment of Uniform Pension Systems for Rural and Urban Residents. These laws and regulations, introduced over such a short time, demonstrate the efforts of the Chinese government to establish and perfect a system of laws and regulations for the elderly population.

The 6th national population census shows that elderly women account for 51.3 percent of the elderly population. The effects of gender discrimination accumulated in their life course mean that they are under more pressure than elderly men in survival and development. They constitute a disadvantaged group to be cared for and supported by the society. In 2009 the National Work Committee for the Elderly launched the project "national research on strategic policies in coping with ageing of the population", which featured specialized research on issues of elderly women. 他The China National Program for Child Development(2011-2020) issued by the State Council contains specific requirements for elderly women's social security, medical care, education, and social participation. The All-China Women's Federation, as a member of the National Work Committee for the Elderly, is responsible for safeguarding elderly women's lawful rights and interests according to law, participating in and promoting the formulation and implementation of policies for safeguarding elderly women's rights and interests, fostering a healthy social environment for elderly women, and for fully exercising their social functions. The issues faced by elderly women have gained attention of the government and the whole society, and gender awareness has been gradually included in the mainstream system of national policies for the elderly.

2. Pension systems are continuously improved, and elderly women's economic independence and stability are increasing

During the first ten years of the 21st century, the government attached great importance to the livelihood of the citizens. As a result, the people's living standards and livelihood have improved substantially. At the same time, the systems closely related to the development of elderly women have made great progress. The development of a social security system has been fruitful. The urban and rural basic pension schemes have reached full coverage. As of the end of 2013, participants in basic pension schemes totaled 81,968 nationwide. Since 2002, pension payments for retirees of enterprises have been on the rise.

According to the sixth national population census, in 2010, 19.6 percent of elderly women had pension payments as their main source of income, an increase of 6.7 percentage points from ten years ago; the proportion of elderly women who were dependent on their family members declined by 7.2 percentage points. Thus, the economic independence of elderly women as a group increased. With the popularization of the system for ensuring a minimum standard of living across the country, the proportion of elderly women who had subsistence allowances as their main source of income reached 3.7 percent in 2010, an increase of 2.1 percentage points during the first ten years of the 21st century .

3. The social medical care system has been established by and large, and the health and medical conditions for elderly women have significantly improved

The life expectancy of Chinese women reached 77.37 years in 2010 (4.99 years more than that of men), up 4.04 years compared with 2000 . According to the data of the third national survey on women's social status, 81.2 percent of elderly women are healthy or basically healthy, nearly 73.4 percent of elderly women can take care of themselves in daily life, and they are psychologically and mentally healthy as a group.

In 1998 China started to establish a basic medical insurance system for urban employees and in 2002 launched a new cooperative medical care system in rural areas on a pilot basis. In 2013 the basic medical insurance system for urban employees reached full coverage on the whole, and the basic allowances for medical insurance for urban and rural residents increased by 280 yuan per person . In 2013, the State Council promulgated the Suggestions on Promoting Healthy Development of Health Services (State Council document No. 40). In response to the challenges brought by ageing of the population, the medical services sectors are strengthening health management services and prevention and control of chronic diseases of elderly women, which will undoubtedly further improve the health and medical conditions of elderly women.

4. Policies for benefiting the elderly are being popularized, improving the quality of life for elderly women

With social-economic development in China during the past decade, the welfare system for the elderly have been established nationwide. As of August 2014, a total of 19 provinces and municipalities had established a system of allowances for citizens in advanced ages; 22 provinces and municipalities had introduced policies for subsidizing the services for elderly citizens in financial difficulties; Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Heilongjiang had established the system of subsidizing the medical care for elderly citizens with disabilities; all 31 provinces and municipalities had instituted waivers or reductions of regular registration fees at hospitals; urban public transportation had provided discounted fares for elderly passengers; and public cultural service facilities such as museums at various levels had provided all elderly citizens with free access . Implementation of the policies of universal benefits for the elderly is of far more importance for improving the living conditions of elderly women with less favorable socio-economic situation, and they are actually the main beneficiaries of these policies.

5. Elderly women have high levels of social participation and play an important role in the society and within the family

For the majority of elderly women who have retired, their families and communities serve as the center of their daily lives. Traditionally doing a larger share of house chores and caring for other family members, women work for their families to the best of their abilities during their whole lifetime. In their old age, women are not simply being supported and cared by their family members; rather, many of them do the same for other family members. The third national survey on the social status of women suggests that elderly women do house chores for more than one and a half hours per day on average, almost one hour more compared with elderly men.

The third national survey on the social status of women also suggests that the quality of elderly women on the whole have improved significantly, with an increase of 2.3 years in the total length of education on average. In cities, many elderly women who are healthy, relatively younger, and well educated are the most active members in their communities, participating in public affairs management and cultural and sports events and thus playing a positive role in promoting harmonious development of these communities. Due to the large outflows of young and middle aged rural workers, 23.1 percent of elderly women in the rural areas still work in the field , constituting an important force in agricultural production activities in today's China.

(B) Gaps and Challenges

1. Economic security for elderly women is insufficient and needs to be strengthened

The income levels of elderly women are significantly lower than those of elderly men and thus form the majority of the poverty-stricken elderly population. The third national survey on the social status of women shows that in 2010 the annual average incomes of urban and rural elderly women were 53.8 percent and 34.9 percent those of their male counterparts, respectively. 22.4 percent of urban elderly women had no stable sources of income, and the percentage for rural elderly women was 44.1 percent, up 17.0 and 18.7 percentage points, respectively, when compared with men. Women accounted for 67.1 percent of all elderly people without sources of income (47.1 percent in the rural areas and 20.9 percent in urban areas).

With regard to the pension scheme enjoyed by elderly women, these mainly include basis pensions for urban residents and for rural residents, both of which are at relatively low levels. Their economic independence needs to be improved. Due to the lack of independent sources of income, rural elderly women and elderly women who are widowed have far greater risks of getting into poverty than other groups. The economic security of elderly women is relatively weak and needs to be improved.

2. Resources for medical services and care for elderly women are insufficient, and their health conditions need to be improved

Although elderly women generally live longer than men, they are more prone to be inflicted with all kinds of diseases. Due to limited financial resources, their use of medical services is significantly lower than that for men. This is true especially in rural areas. The third national survey on the social status of women shows that 29.25 of rural elderly women had the experience of refusing to see the doctor while suffering from an ailment during the recent three years, a figure 4.9 percentage points higher than that for rural elderly men and 9.2 percentage points and 14.6 percentage points higher than that for urban elderly women and men, respectively. Respondents who were elderly women in the survey confided that their medical expenses over the previous year stood at 86 percent of those for elderly men and that they themselves were responsible for 74.6 percent of those expenses, a figure 7.1 percentage higher than that for men.

As the outflows of rural young workers intensify and as families become smaller and more nuclearized and have more diverse residential arrangements, the family resources of caring for elderly women are becoming less. Compared with men, elderly women have higher risks of becoming widowed. 70 percent of widowed elderly people are women. This inevitably adds to the risks faced by elderly women of falling into poverty and also causes them to lose the support of their spouses, making them more difficult to access to the care resources.

3. The society has a low level of recognition of elderly women's social participation and contributions

In addition to doing house chores all the year round, rural elderly women are also laborers in the field. They even spend more time on agricultural production than men during the year. Elderly women in the West carry out the most arduous amounts of labor . However, much of the unpaid labor performed by elderly women is little recognized by the society and their families. They are traditionally seen as being dependent on other family members and lacking contributions to the family economy. This is indeed unfair for them.

(C) Suggestions in Response

1. Improve old age pension schemes and improve elderly women's economic security

In order to fundamentally improve elderly women's economic security and thus the quality of their life, it is necessary that we strengthen their capabilities of working and provide them with opportunities for equal social participation. Also, the gender perspective should be more fully included in relevant retirement policies and the design and implementation of old gage pension schemes, including due recognition of the vast amounts of unpaid labor performed by women and narrowing down the gender-based differentials in old age pension payments. In addition, we should further improve the security system for widows to ensure their economic security, establish gender-sensitive family policies, and provide relevant support and services to elderly women in retirement and the caretakers.

2. Pay attention to the special needs of elderly women for medical care and health resources, and establish favorable policies to improve their health conditions

Regarding the medical services and public health services, it should be recognized that elderly women are more easily prone to chronic diseases, have relatively low levels of medical security, and have inadequate use of medical facilities and services. We should strengthen education for elderly women on common chronic diseases, increase inputs into prevention and treatment of these diseases in basic public medical service systems, and improve professional training to health care personnel in communities, so as to meet elderly women's special needs as a group.

We should establish and improve community-based service systems for the elderly by increasing day care centers and dining rooms for the elderly and instituting a system of services and care for the widowed elderly people living alone.

3. Empower elderly women and take practical measures to ensure and support elderly women's social participation

In exploring strategic policies for coping with the ageing of the population, the government should more fully recognize the contributions made to the family and the society by those elderly women who are healthy and relatively younger, so that the government should provide them with more opportunities and platforms for active participation as a group through formulating favorable policies. Various grassroots women's organizations and organizations for the elderly should explore how to best organize and guide elderly women to play an active role in social and public affairs management and relevant activities, thereby providing them with more opportunities to participate in social development and share the fruits of social progress.

(Women of China)


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