by Brit de Jong and Linda Ingafú,
In the present day, women in Europe reach on the average 80
years of age, which never happened before. There barely exists a social
map of the third and fourth phases of the life of older women. This offers
them the opportunity to decide for themselves in which direction they
want to go, how, with whom. First of all they should not allow new,
patriarchal theories to be attached to them, where they have no voice.
Why ‘Changing Track’?
1. Many women of around 50 feel the need
to readjust their design of life. Often this necessitates a thunderclap.
Sometimes it starts with a painful loss, sometimes with daily discomfort.
It also happens that something is changing inside the woman herself. It is
not easy to change track: often it is preceeded by a profound crisis in
which the vital questions are being asked again.
2. Older women in Europe
have been born before or during World War II. Most of them have raised
children and lived as housewives. They could do with some support.
Older women possess a wealth of knowledge out of experience which our
highly developed economy is not interested in at all. It is important to
hand this knowledge to younger women.
4. Women who give birth to children
nowadays, live under even bigger pressure: society claims more of them
than it claimed from their mothers. These women are obliged to obtain an
independent economic position during the same period in which they raise
their children. Older women can really signify something for their
daughters, without depending on them or being misused.
1996 Linda, Italian, 79 years old, and Brit, Dutch, 55 years old,
participated on behalf of A.I.D.A., Association of Italian Active/Older
Women,from Perugia, in ‘Changing Track’, an International 50+Women’s
Project, subsidized by the European Commission. We have been living
together for almost twenty years. The goal was to first map the ways in
which older women in different locations in Europe are creating their own
ways of living , from which indicators had to be developed. A financial
stop blocked the second part of the project. What follows is our personal
sketchbook of CT, in which Scotland, Austria, Germany and Italy
participated. Between February and November 1996 the delegates of each
country organised five meetings, in which they showed each other the
activities in their cities/regions, in Graz (2), Glasgow, Russelsheim and
Perugia. Besides many positive moments, there also were some annoying
problems of communication, for which we see two reasons. The differences
between women who participated were huge: there were women from rural
areas and cities, black and white women, working- and middle class women,
women from both sides of the Alps. The other reason is that there were
many powergames going on, by which we mean that some women used power in
indirect ways. To cooperate well, older women will have to come to terms
with differences between them, and with the ways in which they use power.
We have distilled a selfhelp program from the meetings and
workshops of CT, which we want to sketch. In every region of Europe some
results for research into the position of older women have been published.
With them this program will get back - up. The goal is to rebuild your
lifehouse as an older woman. We shall look at the foundations; afterwards
it will be much easier to restructure the rooms. We distinguish 6
foundations ( the concept comes from GEFAS/Graz).
1. Your personal history
How do you interpret the way you have gone so far? The point
is to trust your own eyes and take responsibiliy for whatever you see.
More easily said than done!
How does it feel inside your skin?
Figures don’t lie about it: women get older and older, but it is
attended by a lot of trouble and discomfort. It is important that older
women plead for care whilst keeping as much autonomy as possible.
As most older women didn’t build autonomous pension
claims, their financial position will not be rose-coloured. Moreover the
difference in the height and building up of social pensions in each
country are big. Be active to invent payable and pleasant old age benefits!
4. Yourself in relation to
Not mentioned as the first foundation,
for a change. Have you got the people around you you need. If you have no
contact with your children, which happens much more often than we usually
think, how do you come to terms with that? Three- quarters of the women
above 70 who have lived with a man will have lost their partner at that
time. For a 50+ woman the chance of finding a male partner has reduced to
8 %. Women who love women face the problem of the visibility of their
5. Social participation
It is a choice in life to be active
whilst getting old! Do you choose a creative way to express your long
experience of life? Do you become active in politics, learn a new
language or sing in a choir?
6. Giving sense
How do you want to round off
your life? Are you able to give a meaning to the time which you have
covered? Many women have grown up with the norms and values of traditional
churches. They will feel the need to find out once more if they still fit
into these structures.
Some of the 6 foundations will feel good; some
might be loaded with difficult feelings. Not so many older women live
succesful lives in every way; don’t be mistaken. Something is lacking in
the life of every older woman. Accepting what is not possible, but even
more what is possible, produces a kind of calm which can lead to a more
profound insight into life. This insight will escape you as long as you
are trying to understand life as a dominating influence. Older women might
produce a lead here, less geared as they are to control.
of GEFAS from Graz have invented the image of elephants to represent older
women’s lives. Their color is grey, the number of variants is endless.
Female elephants of different generations wander about together. Together
they give alarm whenever a young one, which they carefully protect, is
being attacked. They play together, mourn for their dead and they can show
their teeth. For want of water the older ones burrow as long as necessary
with their trunks until they find it; they then allow the young ones to
drink first. The huge ears, feature of the African elephants, function as
infallible antennas in social intercourse. Their thick, but in some spots
very sensitive skin has to be wet every day to make them feel comfortable.
They move in herds, without noise, because they have got some kind of
cushions under their toes. Isn’t this an outstanding symbol for older