In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1 October as the International Day of Older Persons. Nearly 30 years after this milestone, the UN proposes the theme «Journey to Equality» by 2019. This journey towards equality takes place in a certain landscape, where the focus is on two pillars: rights and inequalities.
Chile’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of The Elderly in 2017 is a major step forward, and it succeeds in positioning the issue of rights in old age beyond a single declaration of intent.
The Convention also matters, as it not only establishes a regulatory framework, but also implicitly implements the mechanisms for monitoring and promoting its implementation, and the policies of national, regional and international states and agencies. In other words, practices and policies must be visualized in a human rights logic. Otherwise, older people will continue to be regarded as taxable persons and not as legal persons. They will continue to be seen as fragile and mere passive recipients of benefits and assistance, without any capacity or right to exercise.
The commitment and responsibility that governments, and society at large, assume to ensure the flat exercise of the rights of older persons becomes binding with the Convention. Any exercise of rights entails duties. As early as 1982, the First Vienna International Plan of Action on Aging – also signed by Chile – identified this dual citizenship status in the elderly through its overall objective: «to initiate an international programme of action to ensure the economic and social security [rights] of older people, as well as opportunities for those individuals to contribute to the development [duties] of their countries.»
The important thing to note today is that older people have not stopped taking on and responding to those duties with their family, work, community and with others. Clear examples of this are the care tasks that many grandmothers and older women continue to perform in the domestic field; the low rates of absenteeism of older workers; active social and local participation assumed by many older men and women. Despite this, the social productivity of the elderly in our society is invisible.
From this point of view, older people are not only people who have contributed socially throughout their lives, but continue to do so during old age. So the exercise of rights and the responsibility of the State with its citizens should be a reality throughout life.
The question to be asked is how do you deal with the inequalities faced today by people in old age and how to prevent the forms of exclusion that will arise in the future?
The most direct response could be to address the root of inequalities in old age, i.e. those structural conditions of inequality that accumulate throughout life and that are exacerbated in old age. The United Nations proposes:
«Sensitizing about inequalities in old age and affecting how they reflect the sum of disadvantages throughout life, highlighting the intergenerational risk of increased inequality during old age. To raise awareness of the urgency of addressing both the inequalities facing older people today, and the need to work to prevent those that will arise in the future. Explore social and structural changes within the framework of lifelong policies, such as lifelong learning, proactive and adaptive labour measures, social protection and universal health coverage. Reflect on the practices, lessons learned and the progress made in eliminating the inequalities faced by the elderly, as well as assessing efforts to alter negative narratives and stereotypes affect old age.»
However, in the current landscape of the daily life of older men and women, it is not enough to raise awareness, raise awareness, explore or reflect, it is necessary to move into action. And in the last few weeks we’ve seen it. We have seen the action of the organized elderly in calling on the authorities about the payment of contributions or the ability to dispose of their planned savings. This has been an action that has had resonance in public opinion and the media, but also in the three powers of the State: executive, legislative and judicial.
Citizen participation of older people begins when they raise their voices to ensure that economic and social security is guaranteed, so that age is no longer just a natural and normal aspect of life, but is recognized as an element of stratification that creates inequality. That’s the landscape that can secure the Journey to Equality.
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