There is a major issue among young women (and some young men who support them!) currently in Australia as they have discovered that the GST applies to feminine hygiene products but not to parallel men’s products. Treasurers from all our States and Territories (largely, if not completely, male) met last week to discuss financial matters and this matter was raised. No decision was taken. It’s only a small issue (except if you are a woman living below the poverty level) but should (a) not be a problem in the first place in the sense that the GST should never have been applied and (b) is yet another example of the sexist society we live in. It is only a small tax but when you add these small issues together for individuals they add up to cost and discrimination. They follow on immediately from the fact that women are not fully represented at so many levels and in so many areas, not least of which is the area of governance. We only have 2 women in the Government Cabinet, the parliamentary governing body.

So what has this got to do with ageing? Three of us ‘oldies’ went along to a rally to protest against this tax just to show our support for the discrimination they were fighting. One of the older women began to wonder if there was the same discriminatory tax on similar garments for older people. Considering that 1 in 3 older people suffer from incontinence and many are living in poverty, this becomes a big issue at least for them. It is a debilitating problem for sufferers without concerns about affordability. The next problem we had was to find out if this tax does apply to these items. A quick search on the internet was unhelpful; obviously it needed more expertise than we had. Even if we discovered that it does exist then who would help us to fight the battle ahead? We have two major organisation in Australia which purport to represent older people (and are given huge government grants to pursue this) but the trouble is that they don’t believe in employing older people so they are unaware of many of the problems which affect this age group. The government thinks that it is doing the right thing and looking after older people by giving grants to these groups but older people’s needs are often not addressed.

The ageing population is a huge problem, as the government and society is well aware, but it will continue to be so, and increasingly so, unless our voices are genuinely heard. The present system isn’t working but how we bring about change is hard to work out. Meanwhile we continue the struggle to be heard, at increasing cost to ourselves, our lifestyles and cost to the countries we live in. When will we get intelligent government?