Lives and Voices:
Participation and Policy in Sheffield
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The feminisation of ageing European populations
is well documented, as are many of the implications for older
women's quality of life (QoL) and for policy. While women are
living longer, they are also experiencing lengthy periods of chronic
illnesses. Assessment of their health and social needs, however,
depends on a mix of social and structural factors. For example,
the poverty in later life experienced by many older women can
be the result of their positions in the labour force and as caregivers.
Recent studies have adopted life-course and autobiographical
approaches to understanding older women's lives. However, few
studies have explored the impact on the quality of women's lives
of the intersection of ageism, sexism and racism. Consequently
very little research has been focused directly on minority ethnic
Transformations in approaches to older women, reflected
in the broader gerontology literature, have seen the replacement
of models of old age which emphasise dependence and senescence
with approaches that focus on 'participatory', 'active' or 'productive'
ageing. The emphasis is on social quality and the identification
of conditions which enable individuals, as citizens, to participate
in the social and economic lives of their communities in ways
which enhance their well-being and individual potential.
Accompanying these transformations are new emphasises
in service provision that have focused upon improving public and
user participation. However, we still have limited insight into
localised levels of representation. For example policy-makers
have declared the concept of empowerment the driving force within
services for local people but the concept remains both elusive
and contested, based around consumer models rather than user-empowerment
models centred on clearly defined rights.
Aims and Objectives
The overall goal of our study is to demystify the
lives of older women as a basis for change. The research aims
to increase knowledge and awareness of issues which affect the
QoL of older women and their desire and ability to have a say
in the services which are available to them. Focusing on the experiences
of older women from different ethnic groups in Sheffield, the
main objectives of the research are to explore:
Older women's everyday understanding of
How older women across different communities
promote their QoL.
||The experience of older women in
using public services defined as being of relevance to QoL.
||Older women's perceptions of their
ability to 'have a say' about the services which impact on
We also aim to contribute to the development of
ethically appropriate participatory or social action research
methods in the study of policy and older women's lives.
This study will work in partnership with the Sheffield
Better Government for older People Pilot (BGOP) which aims to
empower older people by: i) increasing opportunities for active
citizenship and ii) developing opportunities for isolated and
housebound older people to be heard. The research will take a
life-story approach, chosen for its potential to give people agency
in defining their own needs. It is our desire to build a partnership
model of research, we shall therefore work with all stakeholders,
especially older women and service providers.
Our main methodological aim is to involve older
women in the research in a meaningful way, both by talking with
older women involved with the different initiatives and by involving
older women as researchers themselves. Consequently there will
be three complementary strands to our research strategy:
||Observation and documentation of
user involvement in BGOP initiatives, including focus groups
centred on specific initiatives and separate focus groups
held with women from different minority ethnic groups in Sheffield.
The recruitment of a small group of ten
older women volunteers to act as researchers and carryout
interviews/purposeful conversations with older women in
the different communities in Sheffield.
||Conducting semi-structured interviews
with relevant professionals/service providers in Sheffield.
The study will inform public and policy debates
concerning ageing, gender, 'race'/ethnicity and QoL. It will highlight
the relationship between older women's ways of maintaining or
promoting QoL and their political, economic, social and cultural
The research will provide a source of data on the
merits and demerits of public services from the perspectives of
older women. It will shed light on older women's attitudes to
more active participation in public policy decision-making and
on the individual, cultural and structural opportunities and constraints
experienced by older women in relation to their involvement within
The study will recommend ways to encourage dialogue
between older women and service providers at the local level,
leading to more proactive approaches to public service policy.
This will be invaluable for the development of responsive public
services encompassing the private, voluntary, public and community-based
The project will assist in the development of ethically
sensitive and participatory methodologies for application in social
gerontological and social policy research, and, more broadly,
in sociological and anthropological research.