Age Discrimination: Do we need a new international legal instrument to fight ageism?


Our colleague Nena Georgantzi, Policy Coordinator on Human Rights & Non-Discrimination, was invited together with Ken Bluestone from Age International to discuss the added value of a new human rights instrument to fight ageism. This webinar on “Age Discrimination: do we need a Human Rights Charter for older people?” was organized on 29 October by the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.

Improving our understanding of age discrimination

Nena argued that an international Convention on older persons’ rights would not aim at creating new specific rights but would support the implementation of the existing human rights legislation. This includes the provisions of the European Social Charter (art. 23 – the rights of the elderly to social protection) and of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (art. 25- on the right of the elderly to live in dignity and independence), and other non-binding international instruments, such as the Madrid International Plan on Ageing (MIPAA).

Currently, there are no explicit human rights obligations for states to prohibit age discrimination in all areas of life and no comprehensive protection of the full spectrum of rights in old age. A specific international legal instrument will help fill these gaps and enlarge our understanding of age equality.

For Nena, the convention is both a tool for better legal protection, but also – more importantly- a better frame that has the potential to transform the very processes that lead to discrimination in the first place. It can help us see the biases in our laws, policies and practices.

We note for instance that current human rights instruments:

  • Refer to older people as ‘the elderly’ or use paternalistic language
  • Older people’s rights are limited with specifications like they have right to participate in society for ‘as long as possible’; this language doesn’t exist for any other groups.

“We need to build this paradigm to have our rights respected when we are older”, explained AGE Policy Coordinator.

A necessary advocacy tool

Taking the example of the existing convention on the rights of people with disabilities (CRPD), Ken Bluestone clarified what a similar instrument for older persons can help us to achieve.

“This (the CRPD) did not say that people with disabilities are a different type of human being. It made clear that all people’s human rights, including people with disabilities, deserve equal protection and it identifies the ways in which society has to act in order to make this happen. As a result of CRPD, we have seen real change in attitudes towards people with disabilities and the way they are treated”, argues Mr Bluestone.

Such an international instrument not only creates legal clarity, but also helps to keep accountable governments to each other and to their citizens, in “creating tangibility for advocacy” and allowing us to “reframe this ageist perception of older people”.

Age International head of Policy also reminded that this debate is not a side discussion. The need for a convention has been recognised by the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Independent Expert on the rights of older persons and the World Economic Forum, among others.

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