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International Women's Day 2020

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Shining examples

We profile four remarkable women whose contributions make a real difference to the many sides of later life.

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Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day. As well as being a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it’s the perfect opportunity to recognise their contributions to the world of ageing. Here we provide introductions to four women whose shining examples and desire for positive change are an inspiration.

A woman wearing glasses and a black blazer
Jane Vass has tirelessly campaigned for the rights of older people during her 13 years at Age UK
A woman wearing glasses and a black blazer
Jane Vass has tirelessly campaigned for the rights of older people during her 13 years at Age UK

Age UK's national treasure

“Any advice for the only man in Britain who can’t retire?” HRH Prince Charles asked Jane Vass at an event to mark his 70th birthday in November 2018. “Your Highness ought to keep dancing, baking, walking the dogs, sailing and gardening,” replied Jane, “that’s what I’m doing.”

Jane has earned the right to do so, having spent her career fighting for the rights of consumers – receiving an OBE for doing so in 2015. As well as consumer advocacy, Jane has a background in ageing policy, having joined Age UK’s predecessor, Age Concern England as Financial Services Policy Adviser in 2006, and becoming Age UK’s Head of Public Policy in 2016.

Jane has just finished her final week at Age UK, having spent 13 years here. Her many accomplishments include the writing of Agenda for Later Life, Age UK’s annual overview of how public policy is meeting the needs of older people, and the influencing of public policy around age – establishing policy positions around everything from finances to care to ageism.

“Jane is an amazingly supportive, knowledgeable and effective colleague,” Age UK’s Charity Director Caroline Abrahams says of Jane. “[She has] made a huge and unique contribution to our work and to older people that leaves us in really good stead for the months and years to come.”

The loving mother who refused to give up

Lady with glasses sat in a chair being interviewed
Judy has persevered, despite having to deal with many devastating blows
Judy has persevered, despite having to deal with many devastating blows

When it comes to being a parent, there’s nothing harder than losing a child. Judy has lost two. Understandably, the grief brought her life to a halt. While she was used to having a lot on her plate, having gone to university while raising a young family and starting her own teaching business, the experiences floored Judy. Not only did she have the grief to deal with, she was also the primary carer for her father. “He’s 96 [now] and he has Alzheimer’s.”

It all became too much for Judy. She was forced to retire but held on to the idea that life had more to offer, refusing to let negativity get the better of her by seeing a counsellor. Over time her outlook changed. “The counselling was the beginning of my journey back, she explains.

“Life is what you make it, continues Judy. Even in your darkest hour, you have to know the darkness will pass.”

Your mind matters

Feeling down isn’t a natural part of ageing. Experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety are not simply features of later life – they're signs you're not feeling as well as you could be. Judy found talking helped her and you could too.

The campaigner making trans rights visible

A woman in an orange vest top and black cardigan
Dawn has used the difficulties of her own experiences to help others
A woman in an orange vest top and black cardigan
Dawn has used the difficulties of her own experiences to help others

Growing up was hard for Dawn. When she told people she felt more like a girl than a boy, she experienced abusive behaviour even from the people closest to her. This resulted in hiding her feelings for years, during which she got married and had three children. “I did everything I was supposed to do,” explains Dawn. “I did everything I could not to have to face it.” This repression, combined with losing a leg in a car accident, led Dawn to a dire mindset. “I imagined taking a bottle of whisky and 400 pills, going out into the Pennines and passing away relatively quietly,” she admits. Thankfully, two key developments – the discovery of a trans group in Manchester and meeting a doctor who provided helpful advice – proved life-changing for Dawn.

Today, Dawn spends her time campaigning and giving talks on being trans, so others receive the understanding and support she didn’t have for so many years  and some older members of the LGBT+ community still don’t. “Being an older LGBTQ person is you can find that you are a bit isolated and remote,” says Dawn. “To have a group like this where you can come in and have a bit of a giggle, have some food, meet some lovely people and basically get informed of what you’re entitled to, is wonderful.”

The group she refers to is the Out and About group at Age UK Oldham, which she’s attended for 18 months, where she’s made many friends, including Terrence, who captured the nation’s heart last Christmas by revealing his struggles with loneliness. Find out how Dawn and her friends helped shape Age UK's LGBT+ section of the website.

Older lady with glasses. sat being interviewed
Sylvia, who left school at 15, suggests the war changed her life
Sylvia, who left school at 15, suggests the war changed her life

The veteran with remarkable wartime experiences

We met Sylvia during a recent visit to Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, as part of our Joining Forces project for older veterans. Now in her nineties, she happily shared stories with us about her important work during World War Two.

"The war changed my life," she says of being conscripted into the army, having left school at 15 and trained as a high speed radio operator. Sylvia's work was vital to intelligence gathering and the interception of enemy messages, first from the Germans, and later from the Japanese. Watch the video to find out more about Sylvia's life and why she enjoys sharing her experiences with people with similar experiences.

More inspirational women

Read the profiles of the seven women we shared for International Women's Day 2019, whose dedication to care, campaigning and volunteering has inspired others.

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Last updated: Mar 10 2020

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