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The UN International Day of Older Persons 2017 – “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society”

The international adoption of policies that support the functional ability of older people is in need of more attention than currently given as the global population of people aged 60 years and older increases. The recent population shift has resulted in an acknowledged need to raise awareness of the rights and contributions of older people, in order to guarantee human rights to individuals of all ages.  In response to the growing older population and the need for further acknowledgement of older people’s contributions, this year’s United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP), celebrated since 1990 on 1 October, focused on embracing conditions and measures that support the participation of older people and on recognizing the challenges, opportunities, and lived realities of older people worldwide.

Today, there are more than 900 million older people in the world, and that number is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050.  Facing these future demographic changes, and aiming to eliminate discrimination, the theme of this year’s UNIDOP places value on the opportunities brought about by global ageing.

The UNIDOP theme of “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons” falls in line with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as both have the goal of facilitating social, economic and political inclusion for all, paying particular attention to underserved groups.

The purpose of this year’s UNIDOP theme was to show that many older people are in fact contributors to society, and to encourage people to broaden their view on what it means to contribute.  It also aimed to demonstrate that the fight against age-based discrimination, and the inclusion of older people in all facets of society, requires advocacy to inform policies and legal frameworks to better protect the rights of older people who are especially vulnerable.

On the 5th of October 2017, experts and representatives of older persons gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss this year’s theme.  The objective was to define conditions that determine older people’s capacity to participate in society, and ways to facilitate this contribution.  A special focus was put on combining technology, civic involvement, and entrepreneurship with the benefits of ageing.

Particular attention was given to the structure of the population ageing phenomenon.  The coming ageing boom is due to high fertility rates and increasing life expectancy since the Second World War;  as individuals are expected to live longer, the period of over 60 years old gains significance.  Dr Marc Freedman, founder of, spoke about the necessity to fill this ‘second life’ with what he calls an ‘encore-career.’  In his view, the 4.5 million people currently involved in these new beginnings, are creating a new category of age – persons who are considered to be ‘old,’ but are active, and neither frail nor dependent, thus requiring re-thinking ageing as a resource of human and social capital.

Speaker Ms Lakshmi Puri of UNWomen raised awareness on the inequalities that older women face because of the compounding of age and gender-based discrimination.  Policies are slow to respond, causing continuing higher rates of poverty, and lower access to education and full employment.  She mentioned that compensation for unpaid work done by women would be a first step in correcting the imbalance.

The data from the World Population Ageing 2017 Highlights, presented by Ms Sara Hertog, indicates that low and middle-income countries will know the highest growth in both numbers and proportions of their ageing populations.  Ms Hertog drew attention to the fact that the number of older persons is expected to triple by 2050 in most low-income countries.  These less developed countries often lack an efficient response to older persons’ needs, causing deterioration of their living conditions.

Globally, older people are especially vulnerable, being more exposed to poverty, abuse and neglect.  Mr František Ružička, permanent representative of Slovakia to the UN, mentioned that situations that result in migration, such as political disruption or natural disasters, tend to hit older adults harder and a number of older family members are left behind during migration.  This isolation results in high rates of loneliness, which has an important impact on health.  For example, Mr Freedman reminded the attendees that being socially isolated has adverse health effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  The role of member states is in shaping policies to correct these inequalities, and to legally protect the rights of older people.

After every speaker took part in the UNIDOP discussion on the value of increasing the participation and contributions of older people; Ms Lidija Dravec from the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG), compared the discussions to the ones at the 8th session of the OEWG, which also underlined the necessity of recognizing older persons’ importance as contributors.  She reminded the audience that the OEWG also discussed structural ageism and prejudice against older persons, the many forms of abuse against older people, and establishing a new legally binding instrument to protect the Rights of Older People.

The IFA shares the vision and aims promoted by the UNIDOP to combat social isolation among older people, to draw attention to the societal contributions made by older people and to raise awareness of the consequences of ageism that resonate in all facets of society.  This dedication is particularly reflected through the IFA 14th Conference on Ageing theme ‘Combating Ageism,’ a theme dedicated to exposing age-based discrimination in health and social policy, and to shifting gears toward empowering older people to do what they value.

To learn more about the ‘Combating Ageism’ theme at the 14th Global Conference on Ageing, click here.

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