“We (the elderly) are always considered as people who can no longer think and who are always brought up with illnesses, not productivity…What needs to be considered is how someone in the elderly can still be productive. We (elderly) should not be taken for granted…and we as the elderly don’t want to be a burden to others.”
Saparinah Sadli’s statement received a standing ovation from the elderly at a seminar themed on the Role of the Elderly in Indonesia’s Development organized by LANTIP Indonesia in 2019. This is because the elderly are often stigmatized as being old, physically weak with disease, and unproductive. In fact, the elderly between the ages of 60 to 90 years are a very diverse group. The conditions of different cognitive abilities, needs, interests, and expectations are various conditions of the elderly (Sadli, 2018).
According to Law no. 13 of 1998 concerning the Welfare of the Elderly, The elderly are individuals aged 60 years and over. Meanwhile, according to social science experts, the elderly are divided into three age categories, namely the 65-74 year age group called young-old, the 75-84 years old called old-old,and over 85 years old called oldest-old. In the literature, the aging process is divided into two, namely (a) Primary aging is a normal biological aging process, occurs slowly, and continues to run such as graying of hair or thinning hair, reduced hearing or vision, etc; (b) Secondary aging is an aging process that is influenced by the condition of the body because a person has a certain disease (Papalia, 2004 in Sadli, 2018).
Statistically, the life expectancy of Indonesian women is higher than men. In 2020, the life expectancy of women was recorded at 73.46 years, while men’s was recorded at 69.59 years. Women’s life expectancy has continued to increase in the last 10 years (databoks.katadata.co.id, 2021). Based on marital status, the percentage of married men elderly is higher than the percentage of married women, namely 82.78% compared to 39.25% (Indonesian Ministry of Health, 2017). Meanwhile, elderly women who live alone are almost three times higher than elderly men, namely 14.13% compared to 5.06% (Indonesian Central Statistics Agency, 2020). This indicates that elderly women tend to be able to live independently compared to elderly men. However, the experiences and voices of elderly women are rarely recorded and discussed. In fact, elderly women ‘exist’ but they are not considered important academically or socially (Sadli, 2018).
Gender Dimensions in the Study of the Elderly
Elderly women have a different situation than elderly men. From a biological perspective, menopause is one of the problems for women. Society has long considered that women who have entered menopause are not complete women, because they cannot get pregnant. Many women are then internalized that menopause is the beginning of a series of discomforts of old age, while in men there are no significant signs that are visible enough to start old age (Women’s Journal, 2002). In fact, the stereotype about menopause is more of a myth. Many elderly women feel free from menstruation that comes every month and they actually have new opportunities to do special things for themselves (Sadli, 2018).
In various studies, elderly women tend to lose power, are marginalized, lose financial resources, and get negative stigma as a burden on society (Calasanti et al, 2006 in Nailah, 2020). The situation that occurs in the elderly woman is an accumulation of gender bias that is attached to women. In a society that is still patriarchal, domestic work is constructed as a woman’s obligation. Due to gender-based structural factors, caring for family members throughout the life course systematically harms women’s lives. Obligations of family care automatically deprive women of the workforce, as well as limited opportunities and income in the labor market. The implication is that women tend not to benefit from social security or pension programs and have limited access to health facilities, so women’s poverty rates are much higher than men’s in old age. Poverty that occurs in elderly women is the accumulated impact of their low lifetime income, as well as low pensions, social status, and access to property and inheritance rights (Nailah, 2020; Hooyman et al, 2008; Women’s Journal, 2002).
Women in old age also experience a double burden due to gender construction. Elderly women as mothers, wives, as well as grandmothers have a big role in family care. Elderly women become caregivers for their partners when they are both elderly. Even elderly women experience a dilemma when faced with the choice of caring for a sick spouse or helping to care for their grandchildren while their children are at work (Marcoes, 2021; Nailah, 2020). The situation is further exacerbated by ageism which views elderly women as a non-productive group, unattractive physical conditions, vulnerable health, dull memory, and so on. In fact, the situation of elderly women is very diverse.