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Great ambition at the UN General Assembly

02 Oct 2013

Last week I attended this year's UN General Assembly, which had a strong focus on reviewing the Millennium Development Goals and discussing what the future Sustainable Development Goals should target beyond 2015. The peak of the week was the Special Session on the MDGs and post-2015 hosted by General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday. I attended this session along with Government from all over the world and colleagues from civil society.

I was very encouraged to hear from the Secretary General and many heads of state, that the post-2015 development framework will need to ensure that no one is left behind. There is consensus that the framework must be designed to ensure that there is a clear understanding on how excluded groups are reached and included in sustainable development and the drive to eradicate poverty.

The outcome document that was passed unanimously on Wednesday reflects this commitment. It is good to see that there is consensus to have a single set of goals in the next framework bringing together aspirations for sustainable, accountable and rights based development. Hearing the voices of the excluded has also been a theme of the Assembly and I am pleased we have been part of the Participate group, with whom we undertook research on ageing and disability in Bangladesh. The results are now published in a short briefing with the longer report coming out in the autumn.

Women of all ages must be adressed in post-2015 framework (c) HelpAge International

Women of all ages are top priority

Gender issues were very prominent as they should be. I agree that action for women of all ages and girls should be the top priority. It is unacceptable that half of the population – and many older women as they age − continue to be excluded and discriminated against.

At the meetings last week, I had many fruitful discussions with colleagues from women's organisations. As we move forward we will have to work closely with these to ensure women of all ages are included in their demands.

We must ensure work and evidence is generated around the contribution older women make to sustainable development and poverty eradication − especially as carers, traders and agricultural workers.

Leaving no one behind must include a strong focus also on other excluded groups such as people living with disabilities, ethnic minorities, migrants and different age groups – in particular youth and older people.

It is a great achievement that it is not just HelpAge International that is growing the ageing movement that speaks out for older people. Others like Navi Pillay, Human Rights Commissioner and the Global Coalition against Poverty (representing hundreds of organisations) both addressed older people in their statements at Wednesday's session.

Strong focus on inequality

I was also happy to hear both the representatives of Russia and the United States (along with many other representatives of Governments and multilateral organisations) emphasised the importance of reducing inequality and combating discrimination.

A human rights based approach is often suggested as the best way of addressing these issues. It was good to hear how human rights are being championed in the post 2015 discussions.

We heard on Thursday the welcomed news that there is to be an independent expert to investigate the special issue of the human rights of older persons. I see this as a major opportunity to ensure that the rights of people of all ages are enshrined in the post-2015 framework. This will fill a major gap in the current one, with its very narrow approach of only targeting certain population groups.

Call for social protection gets stronger and stronger

To include social protection as an approach in the new framework is clearly getting traction especially among the multilaterals: UNDP, FAO, UNFPA, UNICEF and ILO. I was able to raise the importance of ensuring that the next framework set clear targets on social protection as a transformative policy of inclusion rather than a safety net.

Graziano de Silvia, Director-General of FAO, called social protection "the most significant step change the new framework could bring in". The World Bank also included social protection in its recommendations which again was very encouraging. It was excellent to see Belgium and Brazil taking a lead on this with governments who are not yet so focused on this, with a few exceptions − especially from Latin American countries.

The discussions and exchanges showed how important it is to continue to build strong evidence on how social protection − especially universal social pensions − impacts on reducing extreme poverty, and is key to the most direct contribution to the eradication of extreme poverty which everyone has signed up to.

Health coverage for all

In preparation for the General Assembly we have had great collaborations with the NCD Alliance, with whom we produced a joint statement, also with Handicap International and ADI. It is another example of the collaborations that are essential at all levels and which we intend to nurture and develop as we go forward with common aims on health.

This leads me to the call for a goal on Universal Health coverage (UHC) which is being championed by Japan with the support of WHO, the World Bank and UNFPA. This is a great opportunity to ensure that the new framework will include a strong focus on NCDs and that the older age group will be recognised and clearly targeted.

With Japan's experience of addressing long term care this might also allow an opening to bring in this issue which currently gets very little attention. A renewed effort to ensure we continue to focus on addressing HIV and AIDS by both the UK and US governments clearly gives us a chance to take forward our work and key messages on how the epidemic continues to affect older people.

The current ambition will deliver for older people

The week before last we co-released a statement Sustainable development in a ageing world together with a wide and growing coalition of civil society organisations. This was done in preparation for the General Assembly. The statement clearly resonates and links with the main asks of the civil society movement and many proposals of multilateral agencies. This makes me confident that if the current level of ambition is kept in the new framework when it is finalised for the General Assembly in two years' time, it will indeed deliver for the world's growing population of older people

After the Special Session on Wednesday, Lobi Redhawk from the Gray Panthers movement and I were disappointed that there was not time to make a common position statement. However, we were indeed encouraged by the interest member states had in our messages. We were able to talk with Sweden, Italy, Argentina, Austria, Poland, Finland, Zambia, South Africa, Uganda, Jamaica, Togo, Indonesia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Australia and New Zealand.

We will continue to seek dialogue with Governments, the multilaterals and civil society as we continue our campaign for a post-2015 framework that secures sustainable development for people of all ages.

Read more about our post-2015 campaign.

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Silvia Stefanoni
Job title: Deputy CEO, Director of Policy and Programmes

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