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Bringing voices of poor older people into the post-2015 process

15 Nov 2013

Over the past year, I have been involved in the "Voices of the Marginalised" project as a researcher in Bangladesh. The research project was done by HelpAge, ADD International, Alzheimer's Disease International and Sightsavers and facilitated by International Development Studies (IDS).

The research sought to understand and address social and economic exclusion of older people and people with disabilities by using participatory methods to understand what they understand as the causes of their exclusion.

The research is part of the Participate; a network of 18 research groups from all over the world. One of the key aims of Participate is to bring perspectives of those in poverty into decision-making processes such as the post-2015 process.

Our research took place in two locations: the Bhashantek slum in Dhaka and in the Jhilongjha area of rural Cox's Bazaar in the south eastern coastal area of Bangladesh. The country now has more than 10 million people aged 60+, who account for about 7% of the total population.

As a result of declines in mortality and fertility rates, this percentage will increase steadily to 17% by 2050. An estimated 43% of older people belong to poor households, and within those households they often have the lowest priority in terms of food, money, and medical care.

The challenges poor older people face

During the research, I heard some very touching stories from older men and women about how everyday they struggle to get by and secure their livelihoods. Pensions in Bangladesh are very small (only 4 dollars a month) and only 2.5 million older people receive this pension.

Access to health services are of much concern as well. Sadly older people often become disabled as they age, sometimes because they do not have access to adequate treatment for small injuries.

They also told several stories of severe abuse and discrimination. It was heartbreaking to hear how societies, communities and even families treat their older people. I think this has taken a change for the worse over the past years in my country and it is very worrying.

We came to an understanding of the complexity of the challenges faced by older people living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh. It is clear that if you are poor; ageing is very challenging. And if you also become disabled and/or are left behind by your children who migrate to find work, it gets much worse.

It is absolutely crucial that our politicians in Bangladesh understand these issues and how they are connected. Only by asking the people living in poverty will they find out and only then will they be able to provide adequate policy responses.

"We can also make change"

As global society is now discussing what will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, it is very important that the people involved in this process also understand the challenges of people such as those we heard from during the research.

It was therefore a great honour for me to bring the voices of these older people to the parliamentary event organised last week by HelpAge, ADD International, Alzheimer's International and Sightsavers. It took place in the Palace of Westminster in London.

The event was called "We can also make change" - a title the older people and people with disabilities working on the research came up with. During my speech, I talked about how challenging the poor and marginalised older people's lives are and what should be done to change this.

I talked about how the post-2015 framework should address these challenges by making sure human rights, social protection and universal health coverage for people of all ages and abilities become key priorities.

I was very happy for the encouraging responses I got from the chair, Fiona O'Donnell, MP and Member of the International Development Select Committee; as well as David Hallam, the UK Prime Minister' Special Envoy on Post-2015 Development agenda. They both spoke warmly about the necessity of making sure the post-2015 framework includes the challenges of older people.

Participate workshop

Last week, I also attended a very interesting workshop hosted by the Participate network at the Institute for Development Studies in the United Kingdom.

Here I met with and had good exchanges with colleagues from around the world working on similar research projects with other marginalised groups. The aim of the workshop was to provide a space for deeper connections to be made across the network through peer exchange and the creation of new knowledge, ideas and a vision for the future of Participate together.

It has been a great experience to be part of this wider network of researchers. I am sure I will keep working with my colleagues to ensure that the voices of the world's most marginalised people are heard.

What can you do?

Your comments

Shamim Jafar

What is the outcome of this research? It will be bounded in red tape, seminars, tours etc. Does government/NGO's, stakeholders wish to take necessary steps for the marginalized people in Bangladesh. Are we ready to take challenge post 2015?

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Author profile


Lipi Rahman
Country: Bangladesh
Job title: Resource Integration Centre

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