During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHR. Details on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.
|Photo by Paola Gianturco from her book Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon|
International Women’s Health & Human Rights
Week 8 Discussion Guide:
Themes from this Week
• Demographics and the “feminization of aging”
• Social exclusion and loss
• Women as caregivers
Part I. Initial Response
Please discuss your personal reactions to the readings and videos from Week 8 on Aging and the End
of Life. Describe one new idea or fact that you have learned from the course this week.
Part II. Topical Questions for you to consider with your group.
1. What does it mean to be elderly? Take one minute and write down a list of words or phrases that come to mind when someone says a person is “elderly” or “old.”
2. After you have finished, share your list with your group. Which words did you have in common and which words were unique to one or two members of your group?
3. Why do women make up the majority of the elderly? (See p. 234 From Outrage to Courage.) What are some of the features of aging, and are there challenges specific to women aging?
4. List the ways that you think elderly women draw assistance from society. Next, list the ways that you think elderly women contribute to society. What do these lists illustrate about people’s concepts of “productivity”? How “productive” are elderly women? Does this discussion bring to mind anything you discussed during Week 7 on Globalization & Women’s Work?
5A. How does your society treat elderly people and elderly women in particular? Have you personally witnessed what you described in answer to that question in your own life or in the lives of others? We encourage you to share these experiences with the group.
5B. Choose a culture different from your own. (For example, if you are from Europe, you might choose an example from an African or Asian country or if you are from Asia, you might choose an example of a Latin American country.) Do you think this society differs in how they care for the elderly? Why do you think such differences might exist?
6A. What are some of the characteristics that older women in poor communities share? A suggested starting place is to consult pp. 245-246 in From Outrage to Courage.
6B. Consider again elderly women in your community. Do they have similar or different experiences in comparison with the women described in the text?
7. We encourage you to talk about some ways that activists are working to create social change for the elderly. Could similar strategies be applicable in your country? What about the elderly themselves: are they able to be agents of change for themselves? To what extent do you think elderly people in your country are effecting positive change in the society in general?
Using Discussion Toolkit #8 about aging, Anu, Purniya, and I discussed the status of women and what it means to be elderly in each of our countries (Pakistan, India, and The United States). The state of the elderly and how they are regarded and taken care of can differ from family to family, community to community, and often generalizing by country does not give an entirely accurate picture, though does give a general idea. We noted that strong loving families can help to diminish ALL of the issues and problems we learned in this unit, as well as most of units in this course. Focusing on the family and strengthening it can help to solve many of these problems. Women often dominate the topic of family because of their traditional roles as nurturers. Purniya commented how when there are family get-togethers at her grandparents' home, they often refer to going to Grandma's house, despite the fact that Grandpa lives there as well. However, focusing on the family as a whole, both the mother's and father's roles, is important to strengthen and nurture the family as a unit, which will help to alleviate many of the problems our society has.
Women generally assume caretaker roles both for young children and for the elderly. This fact was very apparent in our group discussion today with Purniya at home caring for her younger brother while her mother was away at work and Anu caring for her young daughter who was very excited to be part of this video discussion since she wouldn't go to bed. This care-taking role continues into old age, when they are taking care of young grandchildren and aging parents at a time when they themselves could be considered aging. This can be difficult because as women age they have less and less energy, so the role of care-taking is hard on them and not rewarded in the formal economy.
In our experience, older women are the bearers of family culture and wisdom, and are deserving of our love, attention and care as they age. As they age, we age too, and with that comes a greater compassion and understanding of what our mothers, grandmothers (and fathers and grandfathers) have sacrificed and done for us. We feel an urge to honor them and learn from them as we age and come to understand the role they have played in our lives.
While there is always room for improvement, in my family and community, we honor our women and seek to assist them with everything they need as they age. There are still issues with ensuring there is enough money to financially sustain oneself and family in old age, the issue of loneliness, the issue of lack of recognition in the formal economy, but we are doing our best. And as usual, the majority of effective of change happens at a grass-roots level. The most effective grass-roots organization is the family. Strengthen it, love it, nurture it, and it will sustain you throughout your life.