Older activists from Age Demands Action Steering Group meet for the first time
Age Demands Action is campaigning for a UN convention on the rights of older people but what does this mean for activists nationally?
For the first time, older activists, with HelpAge staff and assisted by translators, shared the successes and challenges of campaigning.
Context is very important
Laila Muhamedovna, 72, from Kyrgyzstan has been campaigning as part of Age Demands Action for three years. She still finds it difficult sometimes to adjust to a capitalist world after spending much of her life under a communist system, even though Kyrgyzstan became independent from the Soviet Union 23 years ago.
"We have a communist state of mind, we need to change people's way of thinking," she said.
Developing as an independent nation has implications for the political, economic and social environment of Kyrgyzstan. It makes it difficult for activists to find funding opportunities when many aren't familiar with the concept of giving and volunteering.
Age Demands Action on the ground
Many of the Steering Group activists shared their concerns regarding government budgets, lack of political will and challenging relationships with the media.
Crispulo Migrino, 70, from the Philippines and Fatiq Bahadur Thapa, from Nepal, said trying to engage with the government was a challenge, but hearing from other activists had given them some solutions.
Margaret Kabanga, 71, from Uganda suggested inviting government representatives to national Age Demands Action meetings, workshops and forums so that they got to know the activists and the issues better.
She said forming partnerships helps to challenge the lack of interest in older people's issues.
The conversation then focused on creative ways to spark the interest of journalists and correspondents. These included flash mobs in Kyrgyzstan and dancing to raise awareness about the importance of exercise.
However, campaign priorities for activists like Laila are very different to those such as Tilahun in Ethiopia, Margaret in Uganda or Sara in Agentina.
Sara, 72, said older people were too afraid to leave their homes because of the poor quality of the footpaths, which makes the risk of injury high. This is what she is campaigning for with her fellow activists.
Engaging young people
Tilahun, 79, said engaging young people and women in the campaign was important. Margaret said older people's issues weren't seen as important in Africa.
This was particularly significant as Africa's population is still very young. Out of the 11 African countries in this year's Global AgeWatch Index, only one has more than 10% of the population aged 60 and over.
Mobilising this large group in Africa could potentially make a huge impact on the success of the Age Demands Action campaign.
The creation of guidelines by HelpAge on how to better engage with young people and intergenerational organisations was suggested as a way of overcoming this challenge.
A new perspective
Acting as a non-executive, advisory board, the Steering Group gives older activists a chance to learn from one another. Despite our greatest efforts, we - in HelpAge's London secretariat - are removed from the work happening on the ground.
It can become easy to paint a homogenous picture of the campaign. The meeting demonstrated that while Age Demands Action is a huge step forward in recognising the rights of older people, the campaign differs from country to country and a "one size fits all" view does not do justice to the diversity of the campaign and its activists' needs.
Kenneth Hemley, 74, from Jamaica told us: "HelpAge is in our corner 100%; they give us hope for the future."
This first meeting made clear that it is our ability to draw together older people from around the world, under one cause, makes the Age Demands Action campaign so valuable. This came through in the activists' enthusiasm in taking part.
Variety is crucial to Age Demands Action
The group will meet three times a year, before each of the annual Age Demands Action big campaign actions. It will aim to improve the accountability of the campaign.
Ultimately, we are all dedicated to working towards the same goal of a convention, while acknowledging the very different contexts we work in. It is this variety which makes the Age Demands Action campaign such a colourful one.
A UN convention on the rights of older people will provide governments with a legal framework to protect older people's rights in an increasingly ageing society.
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