Untold stories: Jozica Puhar, Slovenia

Joẑica Puhar, Slovenia
I take care of my two grandchildren and my household. I am retired now, but had an exciting career in government.
 
I started as an analytic statistician, then was promoted to employment services, deputy director of a hospital and from there I became president of the Employment Community of Slovenia. Then I got into politics, became a deputy minister and then Slovenia's ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia. 

How did you get involved in campaigning for older people's rights?  

Well, I got involved in ZDUS's Age Demands Action campaign at the very beginning. Since I am a member and volunteering as the head of international cooperation at ZDUS, it was natural that I started campaigning for older people's rights.  
 
I realised I needed to get involved in campaigning when the Slovene Government did not follow pension legislation. It did not follow its obligation to adjust pensions annually according to salary growth.  
 
The adjustment did not happen in 2010 if I recall correctly, nor after the introduction of the Fiscal Balance Act in 2012. I realised we need a stronger act that would commit the Government to respect older people's rights. For this, it seemed to me logical that older people need their own international convention. 

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your age?  

I experienced discrimination once when my life insurance was ended abruptly, with no explanation. One day I received all my money back from the insurance company. My agent explained that because of my age, I can no longer have such insurance. They have an 65 age limit. I was very surprised.  
 
If I think about it more generally, organisations like ZDUS that represent retired and older people in Slovenia experience discrimination on a national level from the political structures. When legislation is being prepared concerning older people, we are not invited to participate. They write the legislation without asking older people about our needs. They have little awareness about the fact that they should hear us out first.  

What is your proudest moments as a campaigner?  

I think the biggest achievement is that we gained genuine interest for our cause. I met many decision-makers in my years of campaigning. The highest authority was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I have also met the Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
 
In these meetings, we got their commitment to support a convention on older people's rights. They promised to advocate on our behalf and represent the older people of Slovenia on this matter at the international level.  

What are you campaigning for right now, and how are you doing it? 

We are presenting our demands to the current national government and political parties, focusing on areas such as the rights of older people to work, to life-long learning, to a healthy, independent and safe life, and the right to inclusion in society. We are also making demands for changes to the pension system, healthcare system and social welfare policies.   
 
We create constant pressure to political authorities. Meetings, meetings and more meetings. We present demands, remind them about promises they have made. This is the only way to go about it.  
 
Joẑica Puhar in a meeting in Slovenia

What effect has campaigning had on you as an older person?   

I can say I have gained much experience and knowledge because I am interacting with older people from a range of areas. Before I didn’t have so much knowledge about which rights are realised and which services connect with older people effectively. 
 
Empowerment means increasing one's knowledge, and being informed and self-aware. I believe campaigning brings this to me and to others. It brings insight into how older people think, and gives opportunities and awareness to older people that there is a lot they can do for themselves.  

How are things improving for older people in your country?   

I think that older people are listened to more and more. Not only the national media, but also private media have started to report on topics that concern older people. There are special columns in daily newspapers. Our local newspaper regularly publishes events for older people, and discusses their day-to-day problems and issues. The focus on ageing and older people has increased a lot in the media.  

What needs to be done to improve the situation further?  

When preparing and passing legislation, the Government needs to listen to actual needs of older people. The most important thing for older people is to pass the long-term care act. Healthcare needs attention, and of course the pending adjustment of pensions to salary growth. There are a lot of areas that need improvement and still haven’t been opened for discussion yet.  
 
An international convention would have power to define how rights apply in older age. It must be respected by the state and individuals. This is why the convention is an extremely important instrument for the protection of older people's rights.  

Do you have a message for other older people around the world?  

Be confident and brave. Don't feel a less worthy citizen just because of your age. You can contribute as much as any other citizen. Don't pay too much attention to the fact that we live in a society where some people have more and others have less.  

And finally, what would your perfect world look like?   

There is no such thing as a perfect world. The world has to be created day by day. We need to deal with it each day and strive to make it as better as possible and tailored to the needs of people and other living beings.  
 
With thanks to HelpAge global network member ZDUS.
 
Read more stories from older campaigners. 

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