older woman 2 - public domainOlder women are vital participants in our communities, yet they face substantial discrimination as a result of their age, gender, and other characteristics (including mental and physical ability, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and family status). To date, elder law has not focused on gender and often fails to examine the ways in which sexism operates alongside ageism and other inequalities.

Through our Older Women’s Dialogue Project, West Coast LEAF and the Canadian Centre for Elder Law have spoken to hundreds of older women to learn firsthand about the issues that impact their safety, rights, and well-being. We have made an effort to include the voices of older women in all their diversity, especially those who have traditionally had the least opportunity to shape public policy. We are currently engaged with four communities of older women to support them in creating policy and public legal education tools to address some of their most pressing priorities.

Across many language groups and cultures, the older women who participate in dialogue with us identify elder abuse in the family as an urgent concern and tell us that they need better access to clear information on their legal rights.

Elder abuse is a recognized problem in our society. Yet, what often goes unrecognized is that the abuse many women face in their later years is part of a continuum of violence they have experienced from their spouses and within their families throughout their lives. Any effective public policy response to this problem must take into account the gendered nature of this violence and how it is embedded in power dynamics between men and women within the family.

In response to this input, West Coast LEAF launched the Older Women’s Legal Education Project in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. This project has two aims: to train seniors-serving professionals on the specific needs of older women fleeing violence, and to inform older women of their rights in situations of abuse through a plain-language handbook containing practical legal information, called Roads to Safety, and a multilingual wallet-sized resource. Ultimately, these tools will reduce barriers to escaping family violence for older women in our communities.