Studies indicate that, from 2015 to 2030, the number of people aged 60 and above would rise from 901 million to 1.4 billion.
It’s almost three decades since the United Nations declared October 1 the International Day of Older Persons at its General Assembly through Resolution 45/106. The intention behind this declaration was to bring attention to the growing section of older persons in the population. Consequently, many organisations in different parts of the world started playing a significant role in observing this day by promoting adequate healthcare provisions, social care, social security, voluntary work for older people and celebrating the contribution which older people make in families, communities and the society.
The day is important for older people as the media, as well as various agencies across countries, recognise the power of older people by interviewing them, narrating their achievements, and the impact they have on the development of society. With certain estimates indicating that, from 2015 to 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over would increase from 901 million to 1.4 billion, the attention being brought to ageing of the populations also calls for focus on growing vulnerabilities and problems which the older people face and recommendations for policies and programmes to address some of these concerns.
Bringing older people in the development agenda is the aim of many governments since the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals recognise the inclusivity of all ages. However, for this to happen, it is pertinent that older people are made partners in all dimensions of development and steps taken in society to reduce age-related inequalities. Disparities exist at present in distributing benefits and entitlements, and rendering rights associated with age, in the social and economic spheres, with lower age groups enjoying a better quality of life and the older ones being deprived of what is their due. Reducing old age inequalities is, therefore, quite appropriately the UN agenda this year.
It needs due focus since increasingly we are seeing growing proportions of older people having to cope with accumulated disadvantages owing to factors such as geographical location, income differentials, health differences, social status, gender roles, and so on.
Clearly, the time has come not only in aged societies but also in ageing ones to promote mechanisms for decent work for all ages, remove age discrimination at workplace, provide life-long learning opportunities, open third age universities, encourage proactive labour policies, and facilitate universal social protection, social security and health coverage. Some countries in Asia, a region with the largest number of older persons, and Africa, facing the largest proportionate growth of older persons, are working towards these goals on lines similar to Europe and America, which have a long history of population ageing.
But much more needs to be shared as best practice for ending old age inequality. Ageism which is prevailing in many places needs to be curbed by promoting intergenerational solidarity, life-long problem solving skills, adult literacy including financial and computer literacy, and life-course approach to health matters, in brief, acknowledging that 60 plus counts in societies.
Empowering older people along with young can be an achievable goal if mechanisms are set in to promote their active participation in social, economic and political life. In many developing countries, while older people remain active in political life, for instance as we find in India, their involvement in social and economic life has many constraints contributing to their reduced quality of life, particularly as they move on in age. The growing incidents of elder abuse provide evidence to older people being socially and economically excluded. However, it is a task for governments and civil society to ensure older persons’ inclusiveness in development and have programmes that will reduce age-related inequalities. Greater efforts have to be put in for reducing old age poverty, giving rights to older people and stereotyping old age.
Mobilising political will to bring age equality should not be part of only the national agenda but be a universal goal. We need powerful advocacy for building new programmes and policies which call for special age-related legislative measures that can make a difference to the lives of older people. Time is ripe, for instance, in framing long term care strategies, smoothening the way for licensing and monitoring of old age care centres and training of care workers sensitive to ageing issues. All levels of government, from the local to the national, must take this responsibility and create new institutions or renew existing ones in response to the challenges faced by older persons. In emphasising on age equalities, certain priorities all over the world are needed in developing measures related to intergenerational support systems, elder care provisions, mechanisms to promote independent living and having various services and facilities that include older people.
Finally, it is important that due consideration is given to the situation of older women who face inequalities as a result of gender. The impact of gender and age inequalities must be overcome by unprecedented measures that bring a shift in our thinking and change the fabric of ageing societies from denial of rights to older people to the protection of their rights.
The writer is a sociologist, gerontologist and health and development scientist, and an associate professor at Delhi University’s Maitreyi College. She is also chairperson, Development, Welfare and Research Foundation, and Asia representative, International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse.