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«Ageism – towards a global view A series of 3 seminars. Seminar 1 Age Discrimination in 5 continents: real issues, real concerns Wednesday 31st May ...»

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While the cultures of Asia to varying degrees still hold the elderly in high regard, there are many signs that rapid change challenges the reality of the values held – not unlike the “splitlevel Christianity” of Dr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ where values are professed on a theoretical level exhibiting a reality at variance with those values. In noting the alarming state of many of India’s older people, Dr. Indira Jai Prakash notes, “Alternatives have not yet been wellvisualized or understood. The Indian society has opened itself to world-wide changes without making necessary adjustments to deal with the impact of such changes.” (Ageing in the New Milleniuim) In short, poor older people, especially women, face discrimination in a number of areas including employment, social services, health care, decent housing, emergency aid, security – and all too often, even the family.


Gradually, a paradigm shift in gerontology from viewing ageing as a problem to viewing it as a natural developmental process is becoming pronounced. With this has come the perception of older people as partners in social development and not passive recipients of social welfare benefits.... It is unlikely that older people in the new millennium will be passive, submissive and be marginalized without protesting against such circumstances. There is a greater desire among older people today to organize and empower themselves and actively change the environment. (Dr. Indira Jai Prakash, Ageing in the New Millenium)

And again,

... there is a growing self-help movement in India. Almost all cities have senior citizens’ clubs to address the needs of the elderly. Community-based organizations have started networking to bring different organizations dealing with older people under one umbrella group. The strength of such voluntary

organizations lies in several factors which include:

–  –  –

The Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing (2002) is in full accord with the above, choosing as their first “priority direction” – “older people must be full participants in the development process and also share in its benefits.” Older people can only be full participants if they are organized. The Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE) acts on the principle that in addition to the family, older people need another reference group which consists of other elderly and will act together for their own mutual benefit. HelpAge Korea with the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Korean Government has initiated a “home care” program in 10 countries of Southeast Asia. In the case of the Philippines, it is the community-based program of the elderly (CBPE) which cares for its own members – including older people without family.

Secondly, the ascribed status of older people is gradually being replaced by the “achieved” status – of both older and younger people. It is important, through media, educational and religious institutions to underline the importance of older people to society. “The future of national development will depend on how well older people make their contribution. (Prof.

P.V. Ramamurti in “Ageing in India: Situation Analysis and Planning for the Future”) Achievements of older people highlighted in activities such as the “Ten Outstanding Elderly” Awards held on (or near) the International Day of Older Persons, October 1 attract media attention because of their human interest. Posters, TV spot ads, CD’s, testimonies of wellknown personalities, school plays, etc are only a few of the ways to present the important contributions of older people within every major institution of society.

Organized poor older people are capable of performing a number of services within their own community (“with a little help from their friends”) such as care-giving, being health workers, managing micro-enterprises, being peer counsellors, managing a “burial fund,” fundraising, promoting social activities (ballroom dancing, aerobics, parties) and most importantly being advocates on both a local and national level. In Bangladesh, organized older people monitor the government’s implementation of mandated services for older people and in the Philippines, older people from among the urban and rural poor, veterans and women’s groups sit on a panel with counterparts from the government to discuss implementation of the “Expanded Senior Citizens’ Act of 2003.” At the same time, organized older people need to network with other NGO’s – workers, urban poor, farmers, women’s groups – many of which also have older people both as members and in leadership positions to lend support for issues of common interest.

Lastly, Asian nations attended the First World Assembly on Ageing held in Vienna in 1982.

The Plan of Action emanating from that assembly included 62 recommendations covering a wide range of concerns. The UN General Assembly Proclamation on Ageing (1992) urged the support of national initiatives on ageing in the context of national cultures and conditions.

In 1994, the Asia and Pacific Ministerial Conference in Preparation for the World Summit for Social Development adopted an agenda for Action which agreed that government policies should integrate the elderly in society and address income security, housing, a supportive environment and participation in society. The same was again endorsed by the fifth Asian and Pacific Ministerial Conference on Social Development held in Manila in 1997 which called for an accelerated implementation of the Agenda for Action. Following the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid (2002), a number of countries in the region (Philippines, Indonesia, India) devised a Five Year Plan of Action to implement agreed upon objectives....

Historically, Asian governments have relied on the family to support its own older people and to some extent, the pattern still holds. A recent report from Global action on Ageing on China states “the country is still not ready to deal with the import of ageing systematically, financially and culturally. Experts have called for immediate regulations to provide older people with a legal framework for elderly care.” In Singapore, an appointed Elderly Commission made eight policy recommendations on four aspects of the elderly including housing, social security, elder care and retirement. In India, new legislation provides needs based maintenance, a minimum level of financial security, health care and protection of older people’s property. The Philippines has passed (2003) an “Expanded Senior Citizens Act” which provides, among other things, housing, health care, education and discounts on transportation and even basic food commodities. Japan has passed a law to prevent abuse of older people…. A number of countries in Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh…) have some form of non-contributory pension for older people… To summarize, one can trace a progression from total reliance on the family to ESCAP, ASEAN and Madrid cum Shanghai Plans of Action for Older People to which member countries subscribed to a plethora of “National Plans of Action” (China, Thailand, India, Philippines…) to the beginnings of actual legislation intending to implement and actualise agreed upon commitments.

Organized groups of older people and their networks can help government to actually implement and amplify what is already on the books. An old Indian saying has it, “It’s the crying baby that gets the milk.”

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