“Loneliness is created by isolating ourselves,” said 85-year-old Ratnam Periowsamy from Singapore.
“When I saw my grandchildren and children all busy with their computers and handphones, I felt that I must go out and do something about it. So, I went to the community centre in my area and found volunteers teaching elders how to handle handphones. That is the day I bought my handphone and then I started learning myself. Today I am very well-versed with technology. I am proud of myself that I took a step forward to go out and be a better person, and most importantly, able to keep up with the youth of today.”
Sharing her experiences at a regional conference on ageing hosted by ESCAP, Ratnam is passionate about changing mindsets on how older persons are viewed in our societies: “The challenges are great because while Asians do respect their elders, they do not expect them to come out and voice out,” she says.
The Asia-Pacific region is rapidly ageing. Currently, more than 630 million people are aged 60 years or older. By 2050, one quarter of the region – 1.3 billion people - will be in that age group. On a global scale, the older population in less developed regions is growing faster than in the more developed regions, and this factor is specifically pertinent for Asia and the Pacific. Two demographic elements play a key role in that drastic increase: declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancies.
Ageism brings forward many other questions surrounding the role and situation of older persons in society. It is not only a generational challenge, but also one that requires an effective set of policies aiming to include everyone and assemble a fairer society for the ones who built our nations.
Adopted in 2002 by world leaders, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) provides a comprehensive framework for handling the issue of ageing in the 21st century. It focuses on three priority areas: older persons and the development of policies surrounding their rights, advancing health and well-being into old age, as well as ensuring enabling and supportive environments.
The Plan encourages several actions, such as promoting the right to work under age-friendly conditions by providing inclusive national social and financial protection systems. It calls for strengthening community development policies, as well as enhancing the capacity of governments to more effectively collect and analyze age-disaggregated data; paving the way for more evidence-based policies and intergenerational expertise on ageing.
However, the gaps and obstacles isolating older persons from our societies continue to persist and widen. The Asia-Pacific regional review of MIPAA implementation, held on its 20th anniversary this July, called for countries to deepen their work by taking concrete measures and sharing impactful messages around the importance of ageism-related policies in the region. It is central for the Asia and the Pacific region to establish accessible long-term health-care systems for older generations and apply a life-long learning perspective to population ageing.
Overall, the goal is to involve older persons in a participatory way in the policymaking processes, by recognizing them as a pillar and voice of society. ESCAP supports countries in assessing the situation of their older populations on a regular basis through inclusive consultations with relevant partners, as guided by the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
These national and regional consultations act as a starting point for addressing age-based discrimination. They further aim to enhance the development of thorough and effective policies on lifelong digital learning opportunities, investing in universal quality and affordable long-term care systems to reduce the reliance on unpaid care, but also the right to housing or income security through supportive pensions.
Enabling the voice of older persons, like Ratnam, will be crucial towards building a safer and fairer future for each generation in Asia and the Pacific.
To learn more about ESCAP work on ageing societies: https://www.unescap.org/our-work/social-development/ageing-societies