International Day of Older Persons 2021: three take-aways

Older people are mobilized for social change and demand to be consulted on matters that concern them. Yet, systemic ageism often stands in the way. On 1st October, we called on governments to engage with older people in preparation of the next UN discussions on human rights and ageing.

Ageism is systemic and intersectional

The pandemic exposed the pervasive ageism that still prevails in our societies. On 1st October, many older people’s associations and experts recalled the systemic nature of ageism and the important toll it costs to both societies and individuals.

“The doctor spent most of the time talking to my daughter about me as if I wasn’t there. I think he assumed people my age can’t take in information or make decisions. (…) it feels like it is getting worse as I get older. Isn’t it ageism?”
HelpAge International’s video, 2021

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 2 people is ageist towards older people. In Belgium, a survey by Amnesty flagged that 7 out of 10 older people face prejudice because of their age. In France, the rights defender reported that situations of age discrimination most often concern public transport, relations with public services or access to goods and services such as banks, or insurance.

Systemic ageism often interacts with other forms of disadvantage. The European Commission coordinator for anti-racism stressed the importance of defending our rights in older age in combination with other discrimination grounds:

“As indicated in the EU Anti Racism action plan, racism can be combined with discrimination on other grounds including age. This needs to be considered through an intersectional approach between ageism and racism.”
Michaela Moua’s tweet, 2021

Governments have a responsibility to protect our rights in older age

Combatting ageism is possible. Laws and policies are one of the main avenues recommended by the UN global report on ageism. A UN convention on the rights of older people would reaffirm older people as rights holders and contribute to shift from patronising approaches.

“On today’s International Day of Older People, BAGSO calls on the members of the newly elected Bundestag to improve the legal protection of older people and to stop age discrimination.”
BAGSO’s Press Release, 2021

“Today marks the International Day of Older People. The Foundation, as part of UDP Mayores, signs this manifesto in which we call for the approval of a United Nations Convention that promotes and guarantees the rights of older people, in all their diversity.”
Fundación 26 de Diciembre’s post, 2021

The Member of the European Parliament, Jordi Cañas (Spain/Renew Europe) also asks the EU to ‘drive the initiative of a UN Convention on the rights of older persons’, underlining that the COVID-19 pandemic had demonstrated that existing laws are not sufficient to protect our rights in older age:

“The European Union, notably through Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, prohibits age discrimination, but does not have effective mechanisms to implement specific measures aimed at protecting the rights of older persons.”

Lead with us: defend our rights with older people!

Beyond the stereotypical portrayal of older people as vulnerable, the pandemic also revealed the lack of consultation of older people by their governments. As European states recover from the pandemic, they shouldn’t forget their pledge to combat ageism, and include older people in UN discussions or responses to COVID-19.

“APRe! concludes on a word of encouragement and hope for better times to all older people and, once more, remembers the important and irrefutable principle: what concerns the older people must be decided with the older people.”
APRe!’s Press Release, Portugal, 1st October 2021

The next UN discussions on the human rights of older people will take place in April 2022. But the preparation of these discussions starts now. And they must involve older people!

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