Ageism has no place in the EU!

Special Briefing – October 2023

We live in a Europe where the rhetoric in favour of equality and active ageing has never been more prevalent. Yet, ageism is everywhere… Even on EU’s buildings!
On the International Day of Older Persons, and ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the end of 2023, we urge for a renewed political commitment to make the EU rhetoric on equal rights a living reality for the Europeans of all ages!

In 1948 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), a monumental document proclaiming that we are all born equal in dignity and rights. While on the face of it, the Universal Declaration aims to guarantee the equal enjoyment of human rights at all ages, in practice ageism, which is commonplace across the EU, means that we are not treated the same when we are older.

Just how acceptable is ageism ?

We know that ageism is one of the most widespread forms of discrimination; both EU and UN data confirm this. But what is even more alarming is that this form of discrimination is so acceptable that we barely even notice it.

Less than a week before the International Day of Older Persons, at the heart of the EU quarter, we came across an advertisement banner used by a construction company undertaking renovations on an EU building. The advertisement features a portrait of an older person with deep wrinkles with the heading ‘Does your building also need a facelift’?

Just think for a moment:

What if the contractor put up an advertisement with the face of a person of African descent using the slogan ‘Does your building also need some whitening?

Or what if the same company used a photo of a person in a wheelchair with the motto ‘Does your building also need some scaffolding?’

Would you have been appalled by these posters, protested against them and asked for their immediate removal? We suspect you would have, but the truth is that it’s very unlikely that something like this would happen, because as a society we have come to terms with the fact that such images and statements are deeply discriminatory and banned them by law. Yet –  to this date – ageism does not generate the same level of outrage as other forms of prejudice. Instead, we accept it as normal and ignore its harmful effects. The very fact that this advertisement was used on an EU building is living proof that our laws and policies are unable to prevent ageism and promote diverse images of ageing that celebrate older people as truly equals.

AGE won the battle against ageist ad

As soon as we came across the ageist advertisement, we informed the European Economic and Social Committte (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR), the two EU institutions who share ownership of the building in question. Those in charge quickly asked the contractor to remove the ageist banner and clarified that they do not support its content. While we won this battle, the war against ageism is not over. This incident demonstrates a deeper problem in the EU legal and policy framework. The EESC/CoR – and indeed all EU institutions – lack mechanisms that prevent situations like this from happening again. While the logistics department of the EESC has asked for the removal of the banner, they continue to be in a contractual relationship with a company that openly promotes ageist images. This cannot be acceptable under EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, both of which guarantee the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of age and respect the rights of older people. We have therefore asked further clarification about concrete steps taken by the EESC/CoR to ensure compliance with their legal obligations, and to prevent future breaches. Only a couple of months ago the EESC has adopted an opinion urging the EU to adopt an EU Strategy on Older Persons. Yet its own headquarters are ill-equipped to address and detect ageism. This shows the need for a much more comprehensive strategy to fight ageism across the EU.

Thanks to AGE’s prompt advocacy, the banner was removed, but ageism will continue to be rampant unless the EU commits to fight age discrimination as rigorously as other grounds.

In addition, AGE has reached out directly to the company in charge of the advertisement asking them to change their corporate image and refrain from using the ad in question in their projects. We believe that we all – policymakers, individuals and corporations- share the responsibility to fight ageism.. We hope that the company in question will lead by example.

The need for systemic action

As long as prejudice against older people remains so commonplace in the EU, older people will continue to be discriminated, marginalized and subjected to violence without access to justice and redress. Let’s not forget all the ways in which ageism has led to unnecessary deaths, deterioration of cognitive, mental and physical health, unmet health and other support needs, increased poverty, abuse and vilification during the pandemic. All these human rights violations are not treated with the same gravity in law and practice as those on the basis of racism, sexism or ableism. To equally protect our rights when we are older, we need mechanisms that can prompt systemic change. This is supported by several international studies and reports.

We call for…

  • At EU level we need an Age Equality Strategy guiding EU action towards the adoption of age-inclusive policies and concrete measures to fight ageism and promote the rights, value, and contributions of persons of all ages to society. This strategy would make age equality a clear priority for the EU. It would for instance include a specific obligation to assess the impact of policies, decisions as well as external contracting services on age equality making it less likely for older people to be excluded from policy and legislative proposals and for ageist portrayals to prevail in media and advertising.

>> More about our call for an Age Equality Strategy

  • At global level we need a UN convention, as the ultimate instrument with a transformative potential to drive tangible change for the equal realisation of universal rights in old age. A convention would create an international system of accountability by enshrining legal obligations to detect and address human rights violations against older persons. It would provide a richer, clearer and more accessible interpretation of universal rights, spelling out concrete changes that are necessary to address specific rights violations experienced in old age. A new convention would also rectify the systemic neglect of older people in the current human rights system and create more space for individuals and organizations to advocate for equal rights in old age.

>> More about our call for a UN convention

What you can do: Raise your voice

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 75 this year. But it will not fulfil its promises unless we set up the mechanisms that provide accountability for age discrimination; unless we empower activists to demand the full realization of universal human rights in old age; unless we raise awareness of ageism.

Systemic change requires systemic action. Every voice counts. Compounded acts of protest at local level can make a huge impact at global level. If you want to #AgeWithRights, you need to act now!

To helps us create a #WorldforallAges, you can:

  • Use the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons to raise awareness of ageism and make sure that it has no place in the EU
  • Join the global movement advocating for a new UN Convention. You can share a video explaining what a difference a convention would make in your life/country
  • Join our campaign for an Age Equality Strategy
  • Call on your government to support these proposals
  • Call out on ageism whenever and wherever you see it.

>> Learn more how to raise your voice here.



Human Rights Manager

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