AGE Human Rights & Non-Discrimination Coordinator, Nena Georgantzi, was invited to a webinar on ‘Protecting the rights of older persons during the COVID-19 pandemic’ to discuss the issue of prevailing ageism and how to combat it at all levels of society.
Awareness is critical
Nena Georgantzi started here speech with a reference to the concept of ‘hermeneutical injustice’ of the philosopher Miranda Fricker, which is a form of injustice caused by the fact of not knowing that you are treated unfairly. The philosopher uses the example of women who are experiencing sexual harassment but lack the language, knowledge and consciousness to describe their situation as a human rights abuse. Instead, they tend to consider it normal or even feel guilty.
As Nena explains, we face a similar problem in our society, when it comes to ageism and older persons. “We tend not to perceive nor label as human rights violations the discrimination faced by older persons, including the many cases of ageism that we have seen during the current pandemic. For example, we have largely accepted as normal the age-based confinement measures and age-based triage protocols. This would not have been accepted on the base of gender or race.” Ageism furthermore acts as a driver for further human rights violations, including our rights to life, to health, to family and to participation in society.
Beware of ageist recovery measures!
AGE Human Rights Coordinator warns of other forms of ageism that may arise after the peak of the pandemic, when we will progressively come back to ‘normal’ life, such as redundancy measures targeting older workers, or deprioritizing older persons’ access to a vaccine, “in the same way as care home residents have been deprioritized in their access to testing or personal safety equipment or have been denied acute hospital treatment during the pandemic”.
There are ways out of ageism
Nena acknowledges that the problem of ageism is a complex one because it is systematic and institutionalized. Yet, she suggests some ways forward:
- In the short term:
We need to change our narrative about older age and stop portraying older persons as vulnerable. Old age in itself does not cause vulnerability, but discrimination, prejudice and lack of support do. Older persons are diverse and not weak or dependent by definition. We should also abandon the pejorative term “elderly” and recognize the prejudices and inequalities experienced by older people as human rights violations, and not as “casual failures”.
- In the mid-term:
We should acknowledge that older persons have to be part of the recovery. We need to ensure they can participate as volunteers, workers, caregivers, just as they have done before and during the pandemic. We furthermore need to ensure that they have a say in policy making and are included in data collection, as well as in human rights impact assessments.
- In the long term:
We need to strengthen our laws. The same legal protection against discrimination should be introduced for the ground of age as they exist for the grounds of sex, race and disability.
You can access here the recording and the summary of the webinar (Nena’s speech starts at 18:15)
The impact of the pandemic on older persons’ lives has been further addressed by Nena Georgantzi in an interview for the news portal ‘Nonprofit’. You can read the written interview here.
The prevailing and structural dimension of age discrimination in our society was also raised by Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE Secretary-General, at the webinar on ‘Liberties in Lockdown – Please mind the generational gap” led by the European Liberal Forum (ELF). Read our article here