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Stand up now for Older Persons Rights - People across the world march against ageism
by HelpAge International, agencies
Oct. 2019
Thousands of older people have marched, protested and lobbied decision-makers across the world to expose ageism, marking International Day of Older People celebrated on the 1st of October.
Ageism is everywhere but in low-and middle-income countries, older people face daily discrimination and are largely invisible. This was a rare opportunity for their voices to be heard.
HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaigners also ran events, meetings and productions. In Palestine, older people expressed their experiences of ageism in a theatre production. Meanwhile in South Africa, hundreds of older people met to discuss forced retirement. And in Tanzania, older people and partners campaigned for a universal pension and an end to older people being killed, including older women accused of witchcraft.
Ageism leaves people excluded, considered different, restricted in what they can do or simply treated like they don’t exist. It means older people are often at risk of violence, are excluded from health services and face disproportionate levels of poverty.
“A car hurt me and both of my legs were damaged, one was completely lost. I was taken to the hospital then after when I went to claim to the insurance company where I was told that there is no compensation for a person at my age as I’m expired and finished. I feel very bad, diminished, devalued, useless and I have no right to justice, my voice is not heard,” said Vincent Karasanyi, a campaigner from Rwanda.
Jemma Stovell, Campaigns Manager from HelpAge International said: “Ageism is all around us. It can be subtle and is often seen as normal, rarely being challenged. Older people deserve to be treated with dignity, to have their voices heard, to feel safe and to have access to essential services. Just like everyone else.”
For the first time in human history people over 60 are the world’s fastest growing population group. By 2050, one in six people will be over 65. It is everyone’s responsibility to call out everyday ageism at a global, national and community level.
Margaret Kabango is a 76-year-old activist who has helped to develop and implement policies which protect older women in Uganda. She said: “I want to see older women included in more policies, programmes and campaigns, so they can also access essential healthcare services and have the tools, confidence and knowledge to seek help when needed. After all we are all ageing and God willing, young girls will be older women too one day.”
Daw Khin Aye, an older woman in Myanmar said during a consciousness-raising workshop: "I used to be a farmer. I owned 25 acres in my village. I planted rice across all the land. As my husband and I have no children, we lived together with our nephew and nieces. One day, they told me that we are old, that we should not work on the farm and we should give away all the land we own. After my nieces and nephew took all our property, we left our village to stay at the care home. Now, I have no property. Nothing. I am full of regret about my life."
No to Ageism, Yes to Intergenerational Equality, by Srinivas Tata and Eduardo Klien.
Ageing is considered a threat. There is talk about the “burden of ageing”, exploding healthcare costs, and concerns about plummeting economic growth due to the shrinking labour force.
In many cities of Asia-Pacific, we see advertisement for “anti-ageing cosmetics” and surgeries. The current ideal is that we must be young, dynamic and without wrinkles or grey hair, especially older women.
Population ageing is a human success story and an inevitable outcome of the demographic transition. In Asia-Pacific, the pace of change is unprecedented, with life expectancy rising, resulting in a rapid increase in the proportion of older persons. In 2000, those aged 65 or older made up 6.1 per cent of the population; in 2019 it was 8.7 per cent and in 2050 it is projected to be 18.4 per cent.
In many European countries, it took almost a century to increase the share of the older population from 7 to 14 per cent. In Asia-Pacific, this is happening in as little as 18 to 20 years, such as in Sri Lanka and Viet Nam. This means that countries, and in particular Government policymakers need to act fast.
The region continues to economically grow, yet a significant proportion of the working age population is not covered by pensions. In several countries of the region, especially ones in South-East Asia and South and South-West Asia, coverage is well below 20 per cent.
Similar challenges exist in terms of providing accessible and affordable health care, particularly for those left furthest behind.
Robust social protection systems must be developed and delivered to address population ageing in a comprehensive manner. Because the majority of older persons are women, their needs must be specifically addressed.
Older people make vital contributions to society; their role should not only be acknowledged, it should be made easier, including through improving their knowledge and skills through lifelong learning, promoting flexible working arrangements, and allowing them to have easy access to everyday conveniences, like public transportation.
A study on the time use of men and women shows that overall, older persons provide more care than they receive. They provide care to grandchildren and other older persons who need care, with many intergenerational benefits, including indirect contributions to family income by making younger women freer to participate in the paid labour force.
Ageing surveys have also found that the health of older persons tends to be better when they are socially connected, and their ongoing contributions to society recognised.
Mindsets need to change; we can worry less about shrinking working-age populations when we consider that people live longer and healthier. Pensions systems should be adapted to cover the hundreds of millions employed in the informal sector across the region.
We must alter our perception of ageing as a burden. Rather, policies and plans should see ageing as opportunity, with many benefits to be harnessed. The young people of today are the older persons of tomorrow.
Population ageing can only be addressed systematically if an intergenerational approach based on equity and seeing youth and ageing are part of a single continuum is adopted. A fair society for older persons is a just and prosperous society for all ages.
Older persons invisible and vulnerable in emergencies. (OHCHR)
"Emergencies affect the exercise of human rights. Older persons are disproportionately affected in these situations, yet often remain invisible," said UN Independent Expert on the rights of older persons Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.
Emergency situations – whether caused by natural disasters or conflict – aggravate many of the already existing human rights concerns facing older persons. Vulnerabilities such as reduced mobility, health problems, disability and the care of other family members are challenges for older persons when trying to access humanitarian aid during emergencies, Kornfeld-Matte said.
"Despite the heightened risks to which they are exposed, older persons are often less visible in the evaluation and planning process, in part because of the greater emphasis on younger age groups in humanitarian and community work," she said.
This lack of data when it comes to the number of older persons affected during emergencies is having a detrimental effect on rights and services, the report states. For example, in 2018, 68.5 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of conflict or generalized violence. There was not data available on how many of those were older persons.
The Special Rapporteur called the lack of timely data a barrier to inclusion of older persons in humanitarian action.
"In situations of forced displacement, older persons often face many obstacles to accessing social protection schemes," she said.
"Seniors are usually excluded from economic recovery initiatives. Livelihood programs often have an age limit or do not recognize the skills and abilities of older persons who want to work."
The report makes a number of recommendations to improve services for older persons in emergencies, including: better collection and analysis of data of affected populations; consulting older persons to help identify barriers to access to assistance; enduring non-discrimination in livelihood programmes to provide choice and options for older persons in the design of these programmes; and ensuring that older persons health care needs are reflected in any health care planning.
"In emergency situations, older persons are particularly vulnerable," she said. "It should be kept in mind that age often accentuates other forms of vulnerability or inequality – e.g. gender. When older persons do not fully exercise their rights to normal times, their vulnerability in emergency situations may increase."
Stand up now for Older Persons Rights
The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, calls on everyone to stand up for older persons'' rights on the occasion of the global UN Day of older persons. She issues the following statement:
"Today, older persons – unlike women, children, persons with disabilities and migrants or refugees – are not protected by a specific universal human rights instrument. Legal provisions taking into account the specific protection needs of older people similar to those for other groups in situations of vulnerability are currently non-existent.
The lack of a dedicated legal instrument for older people may also explain the lack of attention to the specific challenges older men and women face in the global policy framework, including the Sustainable Development Goals, which guide the actions of the United Nations on the ground.
It is primordial that the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals is grounded in a framework to ensure the inclusiveness and sustainability of the gains over time. In the midst of a demographic revolution, with the number of people aged 55 and over doubling to almost 2 billion, urgent action is required. We need to stand up now for older persons'' rights.
I regret that there seems no sense of urgency. The voices claiming the imperative to adopt a human rights-based approach to ageing, shifting the attention from a societal phenomenon to the older people themselves as rights holders, remain unheard despite the facts and figures.
While we aspire to live for as long as possible, we do not want to age. Pervasive gerontophobia, the fear of age-related self-degeneration and death, nurtures prejudice against older people, discrimination and ultimately the denial of human rights in older age.
''The Journey to Age Equality'' – this year''s motto – should have started many years ago. States have an obligation to promote and protect the human rights of older people.
We all are duty bound to ensure that future generations – our children and grandchildren – as they grow older, are seen as valuable contributors to society.
Young people, those in positions of power today, need to realise that they too will age. It is for them to shape older people''s reality and the future they want."

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Without Sign Language, Deaf People are not Equal
by Karolina Kozik
HRW, World Federation of the Deaf, agencies
Sep. 2019
Governments should ensure Equal Access to Information and Services.
We often take for granted our ability to interact with others in our own language. But significant barriers to communicating in sign language are depriving many deaf people of enjoying even these basic interactions.
More than 70 million deaf people around the world use sign languages to communicate. Sign language allows them to learn, work, access services, and be included in their communities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on states to accept, facilitate, and promote the use of sign languages with the goal to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others.
But Human Rights Watch research around the world finds deaf people often struggle to access basic services. In India, Iran, and Russia, lack of sign language interpreters and information in accessible formats hampers access to public services and courts.
In these and other countries, communication barriers also impede access to health care for deaf people. In one case, Shahla, a deaf woman in Iran, told us she can’t visit the gynecologist unless her mother accompanies her. “But this is very embarrassing to share everything when my mom is there. So it’s better not to go,” she says.
We have documented cases of deaf children in Nepal, China, and northern Uganda who were denied their right to education in sign language. In Brazil, we found many deaf people living in institutions spend their lives without being able to meaningfully communicate because they were never taught how to sign.
Everyone should be able to access information equally. Human Rights Watch offers multiple formats to increase accessibility of more of our products, including videos in sign language, closed captioning, and reports in easy-to-read format.
On this International Day of Sign Languages, governments should remember their obligation to ensure deaf people are able to access schools, jobs, medical treatment, and other services, and fully support their equal inclusion in society.

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