Rights and Older people – Why is ageism not as abhorrent as sex or race discrimination?
A report by Sue Hendy, COTA Victoria CEO
Why should we care about older people and their rights? Are the rights of older people being ignored? Are they different from other groups? And do older people really matter anyway?
All good juicy points for discussion! And these are the discussions countries are having at the United Nations – Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Strengthening the Rights of Older People at its 4th meeting in New York between 12 – 15th August, with a number of panels of experts presenting on the gaps and issues in protecting the rights of older people.
I attended in my capacity as COTA Victoria CEO and COTA Australia International Ambassador. Australia was well represented by civil society organisations having Bill Mitchell and Kim Boettcher, both lawyers representing the National Association of Community Legal Centres, as well as Telmo Languiller, a Victorian MP.
To date the discussions have been about the existing frameworks and how they do or do not protect the rights of older people. The key existing framework is the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) 2002. This aspirational document is a terrific guiding framework for policies and programs, and to date over 150 countries have signed up to it.
During the three previous meetings of the Working Group, the discussions from countries have ranged at one end from stating that the Madrid Action Plan is adequate and that the rights of older people are well upheld in this existing framework to the other extreme where the Madrid Action Plan cannot protect the rights of older people as it is not a legally binding instrument. Others have been more neutral with some stating that even if one was needed it could not be supported, as many countries are in financial crisis and could not support the agreement nor report to it.
At the 10 year mark of the Madrid Action Plan, the framework was reviewed by the UN, and countries were asked to report back on the work they had been undertaking and the state of the world of ageing. There were 23 responses in total. The reasons for such a low response could be many, but some would suggest it is not a framework many countries are actually engaging in and therefore an even greater reason for a Convention to be sought.
One question put to the working group was about the cost of not introducing a convention that is not providing a vehicle to more strongly uphold the rights of older people around the world? Susan Ryan, Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner in her latest report Fact or Fiction quotes statistics from a Deloitte’s study that if we could achieve a 5 per cent increase in the employment of older people it would return a $48 billion contribution to the economy.
While age discrimination continues so unchecked, we will struggle to achieve this economic and socially important outcome.
In reflecting on the discussions from two years ago, I believe there have been some interesting developments that point in a positive direction towards a convention. The African Union has signed an agreement for the region which brings 54 African countries into the position of supporting a convention, which joins up with the Latin American group. The America’s group of countries are working on an agreement for October. The EU is not supporting a Convention and neither is America or Canada. Australia is rather neutral, but informally outside the UN has said it is open to the idea.
An important factor lacking in these discussions are the voices of older people in the member states (countries) across the globe, and COTA working in partnership with the International Federation on Ageing will be working to increase the voices from older people in Australia to our government. To this end we will be holding a forum in Sydney in late November, bringing all the relevant groups representing older people and NGOs together with human rights groups, to develop a plan of collaborative action. This will then feed into a regional gathering as a component of the 12th Global IFA conference on Ageing in Hyderabad, India in June 2014 before the next meeting at the UN of the Open Ended Working group in August 2014.
COTA has played a leadership role in Australia and will continue to work for the rights of all older Australians. If you are wanting to be involved, you can be part of raising awareness by letting your local Federal MP know of your concern and telling them you want our government to support your rights by supporting a convention. You can find more information about COTA’s work towards a UN Convention on the Rights of Older people on the International Human Rights and Older People section of our website.