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Why our quest for gender balance is forgetting one major thing

Image: Gety

The theme for this International Women’s Day is “Balance for Better”, with boards, schools and governments encouraged to become more gender-balanced.

But, argues Australian Unity Trustee general manager Emma Sakellaris, balance can’t occur without individual women encouraged and supported to have choices about their lives and the financial situations that come with them.

“While the commentary around International Women’s Day is focused on the “Balance for Better” theme, a key objective for women is not seeking balance as a standalone goal,” she said.

“Women should focus on making choices to support them living their most secure, fulfilling life possible, however long they live.”

Homelessness at retirement a growing issue for women

The fastest growing demographic of Australians experiencing homelessness is older women.

And while speaking at a media event in Sydney this week, Sakellaris said there’s little that affects her as profoundly as seeing older women living on the street.

It’s a reflection of how the ability to make choices dwindle as Australian women age, and of how choices made in earlier life have major ramifications.

Women tend to outlive their partners, who often manage the finances as well.

Difficult rental markets and years spent out of the paid workforce to care for children or older parents also take their toll on older women’s financial security. And families can’t always be relied on.

The deadly cocktail of factors means achieving balance with men at retirement is “extremely difficult”, and it means women also have less choice as to how they’ll live their life at retirement and beyond.

“The choices made that put in place plans, protection and solutions for a future time or event are so very critical to the empowerment and dignity of women as they age and become frailer and more vulnerable.”

And, she warned, if women don’t make these choices about where, how and with whom they’ll live in old age, others will make them for them.

The challenge is that many women don’t think they can or need to make these decisions, believing they can depend on their family.

“However, again sadly, the dynamics of family relationships often mean women can be left isolated.”

Instead, women should consider appointing a trusted friend or family member to have enduring power of attorney – allowing them to make the decisions for them when they no longer can. Someone with enduring power of attorney has the power to make legal and financial decisions on another’s behalf when they lose capacity.

“All women should be documenting their choices and ensuring they appoint someone, or an organisation such as a private trustee company, to ensure they are protected and cared for, and can then also achieve balance and security throughout their lives,” Sakellaris said.

International Women’s Day will be celebrated next Friday 8 March.

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