We are not all the same: new report of the Older Women’s Dialogue Project released today

7 March 2017

By Krista James


Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is Be Bold for Change. CCEL’s latest report We Are Not All the Same: Key Law, Policy and Practice Strategies for Improving the Lives of Older Women in the Lower Mainland, addresses the bold question: what about the older women in communities? What wisdom can older women share about how our communities must change if their quality of life truly matters?

While everyone acknowledges that the Canadian population is aging, little attention has been given to the specific experiences of women as they age. Older women remain invisible in law and policy. Indeed, how can we move forward law and policy reform aimed at responding to older women’s needs if we have very little documented research on their experiences? The report released today is part of the Older Women’s Dialogue Project (OWDP), which addresses this gap in research. The project’s work is grounded in asking older women about the barriers to their well-being.

Older women contribute to our communities in many different and deeply important ways, especially as family caregivers. However, while it is often assumed that women will provide care to loved ones across their entire lives, there is often a lack of adequate support for them to sustain these roles as they age, and little policy recognition of the financial impact of a lifetime of care on financial security and social equality.

This new report distills the stories of older women into 18 barriers to older women’s well-being in five areas: poverty and lack of income security; discrimination, ageism, racism and sexism; access to adequate healthcare and home support; violence and abuse; and access to justice.

The Older Women’s Dialogue Project

The CCEL has been working with the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund  since 2011 to gather the personal experiences of older women, specifically asking women to identify the challenges they face as they age. In 2011-2012 we held 22 consultation events in nine different languages and spoke to 312 women over a period of two years.

In 2013, we published a first report, Your Words are Worth Something: Identifying Barriers to the Well Being of Older Women which summarized our findings from the stories older women shared with us.

In 2014 and 2015, we expanded the OWDP to include women we had not been able to reach in the first phase: Indigenous women, women over age 80, women living with a disability and elder lesbians and queer older women. We wanted to reach out to these groups because women from these communities are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from discussions of policy and law reform.

We held 14 consultation events in 2014-2015 with 162 women living in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. The results of these consultations are summarized in the report released today.

What we found

Older women are tremendously diverse

An overarching finding of this report is that the life experiences of older women are so diverse that generalizing is a challenging exercise. The title of the report, “We are not all the same,” refers to the sentiment expressed by one participant. To reflect this diversity, the report provides spotlights on different groups of women, such as older women with living with a disability, elder lesbians and queer older women, older Indigenous women and Elders, and older immigrant and refugee women.

Poverty and income security, a major factor

We identified 18 barriers to older women’s well-being, including inadequate pensions, lack of financial support for grandmothers raising grandchildren, poor treatment on public transit, discrimination against elder lesbian and queer older women living in long-term care, problems accessing physician care for women with disabilities, abuse and neglect by family members, lack of legal representation for grandmothers, and more.

As was the case in the first phase of the Project, women overwhelmingly expressed concerns about poverty and income security at every single consultation. Many of the barriers discussed in this report would disappear or lessen if women had greater financial security as they aged.

What’s next: areas for law, policy and practice reform

The report identifies structural barriers to equality that require systemic change and enhanced access to justice and services. It identifies a number of strategies that could address these barriers including raising Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement rates, developing a publicly-funded national Pharmacare program, implementing comprehensive training to address racism, ageism and cultural competency within government and health services, and providing legal representation to grandmothers who are the primary caregivers of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Because the experiences of older women are so diverse, some of the strategies specifically target groups such as grandmothers caring for grandchildren, older Indigenous women, women living with a disability and immigrant, refugee and ethno-cultural minority women.

Although we consulted with women living in the Lower Mainland, many of the findings and recommendations are relevant to the experiences of women throughout British Columbia and Canada.


  • Marjorie White and Tia Maria Perrault welcome participants to our National Seniors Day event on Sept 30, 2016 (photo: Krista James)
  • Older Women’s Dialogue Project participants from the Richmond Grandmother’s Group go to Victoria to talk about access to dental care for low-income seniors

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