Older women have been given the opportunity to provide their insights and share their experiences about living in Melbourne as part of research conducted by Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation.
The newly launched Vital Conversations with Older Women Living in Greater Melbourne research highlights seven key themes important to older women as they age, including social connectedness, neighbourhood development and infrastructure, financial security and housing, family and generational change, ageism and abuse, volunteering and advocacy, information and technology.
Vital Conversations complements the findings of the Greater Melbourne Vital Signs 2017 research which indicated that older women were facing challenges and, in some cases, extreme disadvantage across diverse aspects of their lives.
Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation wanted to hear more directly from older women about their lives, the challenges they face and potential solutions.
The Foundation commissioned Dr Susan Feldman and Dr Harriet Radermacher to conduct the research which has provided real insight into the issues women face as they grow older, especially with regards to their health and wellbeing.
The Foundation's chief executive officer Catherine Brown said that the research provided an opportunity for women to voice their opinions and promote their ability to actively participate in society by sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise.
"We need to become better as a society at including and valuing the views of older women. Their expertise and knowledge is incredibly valuable for policy development and planning for a more inclusive, age-friendly city.
"As a society we are quick to dismiss the life experiences and wisdom of older people. We need to be more proactive in consulting with older women when making decisions for community initiatives and urban development projects, as well as increasing opportunities to enhance financial independence, especially as we are an ageing population."
As part of the research, 18 conversation groups were conducted with a diverse range of women aged between 50 and 91 years, including women from multicultural backgrounds, and from across 22 local government areas.
This report also provides some concrete recommendations for the philanthropic, not-for-profit, corporate and government sectors to action.
"We now have a deeper insight into the issues of older women ageing in Melbourne which will help the Foundation to inform our grantmaking in areas such as affordable housing, and to make better decisions for a growing and ageing population.
"We look forward to developing collaborations to help make sure older women continue to be a vital part of our community," said Catherine.
Vitals Conversation with Older Women Living in Greater Melbourne can be viewed at lmcf.org.au/VitalConversations
Question: What is Vital Conversations with Older Women Living in Greater Melbourne?
Catherine Brown: Vital Conversations with Older Women Living in Greater Melbourne is a new research report commissioned and launched by Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation. It highlights the important issues facing older women in Melbourne. As part of the research, there were 18 conversations with 122 women in 22 local government areas across Melbourne.
Question: Can you tell us about the research that encouraged Vital Conversations?
Catherine Brown: Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation reviewed the Australian Government Productivity Commission report Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia published in 2013. The report found that almost 500,000 women over the age of 65 were living in poverty.
As a result of this report, the Foundation commissioned Dr Susan Feldman and Dr Harriet Radermacher to investigate and research the life events that led to women living their older years in poverty. This first report titled Time of their Lives was launched in March 2016 and highlighted the range of issues experienced by women throughout their lives which contributed to poverty. These included retiring with low superannuation, issues around gender pay gaps, casualisation of the workforce, illness, caring responsibilities, and the death or divorce of a partner.
Vital Signs 2017 highlighted data about older women in Melbourne relating to homelessness, isolation and economic disadvantage that required further research. We once again commissioned Dr Susan Feldman and Dr Harriet Radermacher to consult with older women and give them a voice on the issues they are facing as part of our Vital Conversations series. We wanted to hear more directly from older women about their lives, the challenges they face and potential solutions.
Question: What types of challenges are older women facing?
Catherine Brown: Seven key themes emerged from this new research all linked to social connectedness.
Social connectedness is not only about participation in the community but also a deep sense of belonging, respect and opportunity.
Being connected to the community also includes economic participation which can lead to financial security and housing affordability. Having access to and knowledge of digital tools, as well as reliable transportation, all help to combat isolation and enhance participation in many areas of life. All these factors together lead to older women having a sense of self-worth as active and valued participants in our community.
Question: What do you hope to achieve with Vital Conversations with Older Women Living in Greater Melbourne?
Catherine Brown: We hope that all levels of government, policy makers, corporate and not for profits sectors read our research and take notice of the findings. We want older women to be heard, to have a respected voice and continue to participate as vital members of our community. Most importantly we want older women to be consulted about issues and participate in decision making especially if they are directly affected.
Question: How can Australians support older women as they age?
Catherine Brown: We are an ageing population, so it is important to continue to develop more age friendly communities. Society needs to recognise that older women are in fact a missing powerhouse of wisdom and energy, able to contribute enormously to the health and wellbeing of their community.
Question: What's next for the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation?
Catherine Brown: We will continue to research and support the voice of older women. We are in the process of meeting with Victorian ministers and government advisors to present the research.
We have also just supported the research and launch of Foodprint, Roadmap for a Resilient and Sustainable Melbourne Foodbowl, by the University of Melbourne. We have also helped to fund the redevelopment of VincentCare's Ozanam House which is due to re-open in May, as well as supporting projects that create opportunities for economic participation of older women.
Interview by Brooke Hunter