Last week, I was pleased to be invited by the University of South Australia Chancellor Pauline Carr to attend the Adelaide International Women’s Day Breakfast, #IWD2021 highlighting women’s leadership this year. The MC was the wonderful Sonya Feldhoff from ABC Radio Adelaide, and guest speakers included Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Leader of the Opposition of the Senate and Natasha Stott Despoja AO who is the founding Chair of Our Watch (the Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children). Natasha is also the youngest woman to enter the Australian Federal Parliament where she was Senator for South Australia and Leader of the Australian Democrats.
The main focus of the speeches from the two guest speakers was on the recent rape allegations of sexual abuse inside our Federal Parliament. I agree it is a major issue, as is the lack of equity between men and women in positions of power and in leadership roles, and we still do not have equal pay, freedom from abuse, shelter for all, alivelihood equal to men, etc. The list is long.
The theme this year for International Womens Day is #ChooseToChallenge
So, here is my challenge.
What really disturbs me is that once again, known abuse and neglect, including known sexual assaults inside aged and dementia care have taken a back seat. It has taken a back seat not only by men, but by far too many women. I too can say #MeToo but why should that dilute what is happening to older persons and people with dementia in aged and community care?
There was not one mention of this at the Adelaide International Womens Day breakfast, in spite of the fact that we are an ageing population (globally), including in Australia, which concerns me greatly.
There are more than 50 million people currently estimated to be living with dementia, including more than 457,000 in Australia; I am one of them. There is a new diagnosis of dementia every 3 seconds globally, and 1800 new diagnosis of dementia in Australia each week. Whilst dementia is a chronic, progressive terminal condition, it is also listed by the WHO as the fifth highest cause of death for women worldwide and is a major cause of death, dependence and disability in older persons.
In Australia, dementia is the LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN WOMEN, and the second cause of death in men and women. Let that sink in, just for a moment…
Women make up more than 2/3 of dementia care supporters and more than 70% in lower and middle-income countries. Unpaid women carers compared to male carers, are also more often unemployed due to their unpaid role; girls who are carers also miss out on education and employment.
Everyone affected by dementia – those diagnosed and their care partners – receive inadequate health care, including a lack of access to a diagnosis, lack of appropriate education about dementia, nor disability support to live with dementia once diagnosed. Families do not receive adequate (if any) support to provide informal, unpaid, and more often than not, full time care.
We are being left behind in the Sustainable Development Goals. We are denied our human rights.
Why is this not a hot topic for International Womens Day?
Older women, especially widows, can be exposed to what has been termed a ‘triple jeopardy’ discriminated against as a result of their age, sex and condition (carer or diagnosed with dementia). The stigma surrounding dementia exists universally, with women more likely to be stigmatised in this way.
Extreme forms of discrimination can lead to women with the condition facing abuse, violence and even death. The Finel Report into our Australian Aged Care system has proven that, although we already had 21 other reports with the same conclusions. The Report ‘Addressing Dementia: The OECD Response’, concluded in 2015 that “people with dementia receive the worst care of any disease in the developed world.” Nothing has changed… Shame on us.
Governments, international civil society and partners around the world must get behind this global challenge and unite for a world where no woman is left behind because of her dementia, or due to age.
Ageism, ableism, stigma and discrimination are palpable for these two cohorts, and yet, very few women seem to be talking about it, in spite of the fact we are all ageing.
Women need to get behind this, not just governments, and make it just as important an issue as the recent sexual abuse allegtions inside our Parliaments!
It is time to #ChooseToChallenge this, not to continue to sweep the known abuse and neglect, includign sexual assaults of older persons and people with dementia receiving aged or community care under the carpet.