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Looking back on action/2015 a movement giving a voice to older people

08 Jan 2016

There are many things HelpAge and its network can be proud of when looking back on 2015. Throughout the year, 1.4 million older people accessed health, HIV and care services, and around 850,000 of the world's most vulnerable older people received essential services. But these numbers alone do not tell the full story of how older people themselves have made change happen.

All of us could probably name a global movement that has shaped the lives we lead today. The civil rights movement, the campaign for women's right to vote, the fight to end apartheid and many more all evoke images of unity and groundbreaking change for future generations.

A similar sense of solidarity now comes to mind when thinking of the action/2015 movement, which brought together millions of people from over 150 countries throughout last year.

Identifying 2015 as a key opportunity to deliver change was the first step. The challenge was bringing countries together and building a movement dedicated to ending poverty, inequality and climate change.

Importantly, action/2015 gave older people the chance for their voice to be heard. Campaigners had the freedom to mobilise in any way they wanted.

Old is gold action/2015 campaigners in Bangladesh (c) HelpAge International

HelpAge and action/2015

Our involvement in action/2015 began around this time last year with the partnership of HelpAge Kenya and the Organisation of African Youth. They created the campaign song Hoja Zetu with older and younger musicians to highlight the power of intergenerational solidarity in leaving no one behind. Hear Kenyan singer Avril tell us the moment is now!

A few months later the campaign stepped up gear as 83-year-old former Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined our All Ages Day on May 22.

As the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were being decided at the UN, he stood by the side of older people everywhere calling for people of all ages to be included in the goals. Tutu was right when he said that "2015 is an important year for us oldies".

At the Financing for Development conference in Ethiopia in July, older people met some influential people in the crucial development processes.

Older campaigners partnered with young people from Save the Children to meet record-breaking athlete Haile Gebrselassie, Amina J Mohammed, the previous Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and, not least, the Secretary-General himself.

Tilahun and Yeshiembet meet Haile Gebreselassie (c) HelpAge International

It was important these instrumental decision makers could see for themselves the passion older people have for being included at every stage of the SDG process.

Hundreds of older people from around the world joined together to "light the way" to a better future ahead of the UN summit in September where the SDGs were adopted. They wanted to remind world leaders at the last hour that any agreement signed the following day would impact older people everywhere.

HelpAge campaigners mobilised in New York outside the UN headquarters, in London, and across Nepal, Vietnam and Fiji.

Coinciding with the summit, Esther Wamera, a 78-year-old campaigner from Kenya, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about her experience with action/2015 and her recent trip to the UN to launch the Global AgeWatch Index.

Last in the calendar were the global marches the day before the COP21 climate change conference began in Paris on 30 November.

Our campaign partner Ageing Nepal took to the skies in a paraglide to bring attention to summit, a stunt picked up on by Greenpeace. Older people in Bolivia, meanwhile, marched on Mount Pampalarama to raise awareness of the melting glaciers in their country.

Krishna M Gautam, the founder of Ageing Nepal wrote a blog for the Huffington Post on how much he had enjoyed campaigning with action/2015, as did the UN Independent Expert on Older People's Rights, Rosita Kornfeld-Matte.

She told us that "the desire to live in a safe and secure planet does not diminish with age". Hundreds of older people were out in force at the climate march in London that weekend too, exemplifying Rosita's call.

HelpAge's Beth Howgate marches to include older people in climate change leglistation at COP21

Amazingly, through the hard work of HelpAge and its partners, including those in the UN Stakeholder Group on Ageing, ageing was included in 15 of the 17 SDGs.

I am proud that HelpAge and its partners have been able to join action/2015. It has shown commonalities between us all, that regardless of our age we believe in equality and calling out injustice.

The movement has embraced people of all ages. I have been inspired seeing how supportive other campaigners are of the voices and aspirations of those older than them. With the SDGs intended to be delivered by 2030, the collaborative nature of action/2015 gives me hope that the next 15 years and beyond look brighter for older people.

How can we continue the momentum of action/2015?

The potential and importance of 2015 is not isolated to one year alone. Now comes the pressing challenge of ensuring these goals are implemented. There is no time to waste.

The furore surrounding action/2015 has shown that people of all ages across the world will not wait. Older people will not sit by as commitments to change their lives and the lives of their children are ignored.

Join them by tweeting your favourite action/2015 moment from last year using the hashtags #action2015 and #ActionAllAges, or tell us how you'll be spreading the message of equality in 2016 and beyond.

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Beth Howgate
Job title: Campaigns Assistant

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.