When it comes to global ageing, we should all be agents of change
From 8-19 October, I attended a training course called “Policy Formulation, Planning, Implementation and Monitoring of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA)” in Malta.
I was intrigued by the topic as MIPAA overarches all our work at HelpAge and I wanted to find out more about its major priorities, issues and recommendations. The training was packed with interesting sessions on empowerment in policy-making and evidence-based policy on ageing, among others.
The event was attended by many distinguished experts in the field of ageing, including HelpAge’s Global Ambassador, Dr Alexandre Sidorenco. The training raised several crucial issues on today’s demographic situation and gave projections on what we can expect in 30 years. The population of Moldova, where I work for HelpAge, for example, is ageing rapidly but is also expected to decrease from 4.1 to 2.6 million.
From welfare state to welfare ideology
Professor Troisi from the International Institute on Ageing of the UN in Malta affirmed that governments should not try to change the ageing process but be aware of its consequences. Ageing shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but it is a challenge. The question is: Are governments ready for this challenge and how should they prepare?
Some governments are now finding it increasingly hard to provide care for growing numbers of older people. Social welfare policies which are prevalent in a number of western countries have led to the creation of the welfare state ideology, which “depersonalises” social services and replaces the role of the family. Hardly any emphasis is put on how to integrate the growing population of older people who are no longer economically active into society.
Developing countries should not repeat these mistakes, Professor Troisi noted. To counteract this, the central focus of policy must be to integrate older people into society. They want an increasing say in their lives. They want to be empowered to solve their own problems and able to participate in society to the greatest extent possible. Older people must be made aware of their rights and duties in society and to their fellow citizens.
Professor Troisi finished by saying that ageing shouldn’t be seen as a problem or a crisis. Every country should be prepared and prepare its citizens for ageing from an early stage in life, not only just before retirement. Every citizen, young and old, has a role to play in building a society in which the dignity, security and participation of all citizens are ensured and respected, regardless of age.
Empowerment in policy actions on ageing
Empowerment is a fairly new concept for some countries, particularly when there is no equivalent in many languages. To better understand the concept in relation to ageing, Dr Sidorenko encouraged us to do two things: First, analyse the key elements and measures of empowerment and secondly, identify barriers to older people’s empowerment.
Three clear obstacles emerged from our discussions: Poverty, poor health and education levels. We then discussed how to overcome these barriers and empower older people. My favourite solution and the one I think would have the biggest impact, was promoting positive images of older people throughout society. I strongly believe it is from here that all other problems start. However, it is the hardest to implement.
Talking further about empowerment in policy actions we learnt that there has been some progress on previous plans, including MIPAA in 2002. For example, there is now the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing which is working to strengthen the protection of older people’s rights. What is next to follow, a legally-binding convention on older people’s rights? I believe this depends on how all of us working with and for older people advocate for these new human rights instruments.
The course ended with a memorable speech from the parliamentary secretary for the Care for the Elderly and Ministry of Health, Mr Mariao Galea who encouraged us all to be agents of change and not victims of complacency. Ageing is a global issue which needs a global response, which will stem from a combination of global and local thinking.
Download our joint report with UNFPA on global ageing: "Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge"