This year, the United Nations International Day of Older persons took a stand against ageism by drawing attention to negative misconceptions about older persons.
By Sylvia Muwebwa Ntambi
October 1 was Older Persons' Day and Uganda commemorated it. The theme of the International Day of Older Persons for 2016 was "Take a stand against ageism."
As we celebrated the Day, there was need to ponder and think about the milestones that have been attained in improving the well-being of older persons and what more needs to be done
On December 14, 1990, the United Nations Assembly under resolution 4/106 designated October 1, the International Day of Older Persons. This was a follow up of other initiatives like the Vienna International Plan of Action on ageing which was adopted by the 1982 World Assembly on Ageing and endorsed later that year by the assembly. The Day was first observed throughout the World on October 1, in 1991 and Uganda started commemorating it in 1999. In 2002, the second World Assembly on ageing adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on ageing to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the 21st Century and promote the development of a society for all ages.
This year, the United Nations International Day of Older persons took a stand against ageism by drawing attention to negative misconceptions about older persons. This year, the World Health Organisation adopted the Global strategy and Action Plan on ageing and Health and a related resolution at the 69th World Health Assembly in which the WHO Director - General is called on to lead a Global Campaign to combat Ageism, to support local and international partners in their efforts to change policies and practices.
Ageism as a term is the "systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old." In Uganda, 4.5% and 3.2% of the Ugandan population are aged 60 years and 65 years or over respectively. Notably, a number of measures have been taken to curb child abuse, racism and promote gender equality among others. However, elder abuse and the problems which arise from it like abuse, low self-efficacy are inadequately addressed by existing elderly services and intervention approaches.
There is rampant abuse and neglect of older persons in society because age bigotry is socially considered acceptable. Older persons are disrespected for a number of reasons like being unemployed and are thus seen as not contributing to society. In cases where they are employed, there is evidence of discrimination in their work places with the youth protesting over the posts they hold. Cases of youth storming the streets in protest against unemployment have also been witnessed in the media, with majority making an appeal to aged employees to retire and leave their posts for the energetic and mentally active youth. It is no wonder that nobody has on any occasion come up in their defense. This is based on the assumption that they have lost physical and mental competence.
With greater concern, elderly women are victimized since they face abuse as women and as elder people. For example abuse is practiced through cultural stereo types which forbid them from making decisions in their homes and in some cases from handling money. Sexual abuse among older women is also prevalent as has been seen in the media with stories of older women who have been raped have been covered.
Cases of abuse have also been witnessed in institutional policies and practices. For instance, a number of institutional policies do not allow recruitment of aged employees. There are also institutions which deny scholarship opportunities to employees who have exceeded 50 years of age.
Older persons also experience neglect from family members who should be attending to their needs. This is attributed to the ever increasing pressures on family members which limit their chances of taking care of their elderly relatives with priority being given to their careers, education and children. Some family members have taken advantage of their ageing relatives to financially abuse them under the assumption that they are senile and can't make clear decisions. Examples of these include "falsifying signatures on legal documents and forcing or deluding older persons into selling or giving away their belongings."
Sardonically too, cases of parents abandoning their children to the care of elderly relatives are rampant and in some cases do not provide them with the necessary basic needs. This is done on the grounds that older relatives by virtue of their relation to the children should take care of them. Often times, parents do this without bearing in mind that they are the pillars of their children and thus are legally bound to take care of their needs. In fact, 2.1 million people of the children who would normally have been raised by their parents are being taken of by an older person.
Neglect and abuse of older persons tart amounts into long-term effects like poverty which results into poor health since wealth inequality comes with health inequality. An analysis of the UNHS 2009/10 conducted by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD)/ Expanding Social Protection Programme estimates that 29% of households containing older persons are poor. 74% are insecure non-poor compared with a national average of 67.5%. Other effects of abuse include failure to make positive contributions to their communities and depression.
The role of older persons in national development cannot be over looked because their contributions pervade all aspects of the nation's economy. Therefore clear strategies need to be adopted to protect them from abuse and change people's mindsets that older persons are invaluable. It is vital to give them support because if viewed positively, they are more than able to play positive roles in their communities.
The Government of Uganda has taken clear strides in improving their livelihoods by establishing institutions like the Equal Opportunities Commission to redress imbalances in all spheres of life including those existing among the aged group. For example, through the training sessions which the Commission organizes among Ministries, Government departments, agencies, Local governments, civil society organizations etcetera to equip them with knowledge on the importance of gender and equity budgeting, the Commission is actively promoting equal treatment of older persons by ensuring that institutions plan for them in their budgets. The Commission also agitates for equal treatment of older persons through its tribunal sessions in which it challenges the existing injustices inflicted on them. Through these endeavors and in partnership with development partners, we strive to protect older persons in order to develop an inclusive and sustainable environment.
The SAGE scheme being implemented under MGLSD is equally improving the livelihoods of older persons. However, there is need to create conditions that'll enable people sustain themselves in their old age, right from adulthood. For instance by fostering skills which will enable them earn a living in their old age through self-employment and thus maintain good standards of living. In Nigeria for instance, 76% of the youth aged 18-29 are confident of their future. In Japan, 42% of people aged 50 and above are confident of their living in old age. This should be the case in Uganda too.
The other way of empowering older persons is to encourage them live positively. Public education and information about positive ageing needs to be disseminated, for instance by encouraging them to continue feeling good about themselves as they face another life cycle. This alone can open doors to a healthier life since it reduces negative thoughts. People should also be educated about the rights of aged persons. It is essential for all individuals to respect them and not exclude them from communal activities.
Older persons equally ought to protect themselves from abuse and neglect. Their continuous cries of neglect and foul abuse will bare nothing if they fail to use their potential especially through engaging in profitable activities. Rather than isolate themselves, they need to get involved in active work and maintain social networks by for instance engaging in clubs. Alternatively, a community based work approach can be used like participating in charity events or volunteering in community service projects like looking after small children. Such measures can change them from docile to active and empowered individuals and also make a contribution in reducing their level of dependency and abuse in the long run.
In order to effectively combat elder abuse, there is also need to conduct in-depth studies to identify the number of older people who are abused and the specific incidents of elder abuse. Elder persons who are abused require support to address the violence they experience. In many cases, they are not aware of their rights and fear reporting the abuses inflicted on them. Some suffer from conditions which deter them from communicating that they are being abused while others lack people to confide in. The gravity of the problem needs to be addressed to provide support to victims and devise preventive measures for future incidences. It may also be necessary to introduce stringent laws against abusers. Together, the vice of elderly abuse can be kicked out.
The writer is the chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission