Community unites to celebrate a generation of ‘invisible women’ this International Women’s Day

Members of an online community, which was founded in the South-West, have joined forces to make a generation of women more visible this International Women’s Day (8 March 2022).

The group, who are all aged over 50, has come together to ensure that their generation are represented during the global day of action, which has traditionally highlighted issues faced by younger, working women. People located in cities and towns the length and breadth of the country are taking part in a social media campaign, sharing their personal stories, and attending a programme of online events to help raise awareness of the combined impacts of ageism and sexism on the lives of women. Their campaign aims to Break the Bias by showing that #WeCanAgeJoyfully and address the challenges that women face as they grow older.

Women face financial, social and health inequalities as they age which are unaddressed and underreported. These include:

●        A huge pension gender gap, which means that the average woman in the UK faces a 56 per cent shortfall in her pension compared to the average man by the time she reaches retirement age.1

●        Higher poverty rates. The risk of poverty and social exclusion is 20 per cent for women aged over 65, compared with 14 per cent for men, and that risk grows as they age.2

●        A gap in long-term health and care data that means women, who generally live longer, have more chronic conditions, and are more likely to be caregivers, are less likely to enjoy provision for their unique care needs as they grow older.3

Jane, a member of The Joy Club, reflected on her experiences of sexism and ageism for the campaign. She said: “I’ve experienced both in a few areas of my life. When I worked in an office it was considered acceptable to tell me what to wear. A partner once told me decisions were 52 per cent his and 48 per cent mine! Then, when I turned grey in my 40s the fight against invisibility began. People often can’t see past that. They speak to you in a different way. Even Father Christmas at the shopping centre grotto assumed I was the grandma when I visited with my three-year-old daughter. She was very cross with him!”

Other members related stories of being overlooked in work meetings or for job roles because of their gender, having medical complaints dismissed as a normal part of ageing, being made to feel that their views are not worth listening to, or being made to wait behind men or younger women to be served in bars and shops. Cathy said: “I was fortunate to be able to retire early, but found this transition very difficult. I found I was left feeling isolated, worthless and as if my life was over. That I didn’t matter anymore and should just grow old quietly. But I still want to play, and share, and learn, and explore, not just with people my own age, but from all generations.”

The campaign to bring greater representation of older women to the fore this International Women’s Day and supporting events are organised by The Joy Club – an online membership community for retirees. Many participants are members of the community, which aims to inspire a joyful retirement by providing opportunities for them to connect and share their passions, while positive ageing campaigners have also got behind the movement. They are taking part in the campaign by sharing photos of themselves striking the ‘break the bias’ pose, sharing their experiences of challenging ageism and sexism, taking part in a special International Women’s Day event – led by retirement rebel Siobhan Daniels – and sharing inspiring messages using the #WeCanAgeJoyfully hashtag on social media.

Siobhan is a passionate advocate for positive ageing. After facing burn-out due to ageism and bullying at work, she now fights to change the narrative around ageing. She comments: “At my work, kindness was often treated as a weakness and ageist attitudes meant that I was often ignored and marginalised by bosses. I felt unheard and frustrated that despite my experience I was excluded from major projects, quashing any chance of career progression in later life. This is what prompted me to retire at sixty and try to make sure things change so no other woman feels the way that I was made to feel. It makes me so angry when I think how scared I was at the time to speak up. Even though on the surface I appeared to be a confident woman, many times I was in truth a broken woman just hanging on by my fingernails to my everyday life.

“I urge people young and old everywhere to embrace ageing and call out ageism and ageist stereotypes wherever you see them. I’m proud to be part of The Joy Club’s #WeCanAgeJoyfully campaign.”

The Joy Club’s Founder CEO, Hannah Thomson, added: “Our community has really got behind our campaign to empower women of all ages to challenge sexism and ageism by highlighting the compounding effects of these two forces this International Women’s Day.

“We’re honoured to share these powerful stories about the barriers and biases that our members have overcome in their own lives. Our members are fantastic role models who are inspiring younger women, including our own team members. Our community is a fabulous example of a group of older people who are breaking the bias and showing that we can all age joyfully.”