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Programme Director’s October 2020 Message

International Day of Older Persons
1st October 2020

2020 is the year of anniversaries for the UN and includes 30 years for the International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). It also marks the introduction of the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030). Why is this important? Why is this group singled out for attention? How does this apply to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The 2030 Agenda sets out to ensure that human rights apply to all, irrespective of age or other distinguishing characteristics, with particular focus on the most vulnerable, including older people. However, all older people are not vulnerable but can be a source of knowledge, wisdom and help to us all. How to balance needs, aspirations, skills and knowledge is imperative for the wellbeing and human rights of all.

Sketching the picture

The number and proportions of older people vary both within and between continents and countries. UNDESA (UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs) illustrates this with data in its report ‘Ageing, Older Persons and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Figure 1 gives the proportions aged 60 years or more. In the Asia-Pacific region there were 508 million people in 2015 compared to 177 Million in Europe. Africa has a low percentage of older people (<10%) when compared to the rest of the world but this is projected to rise from 64 million in 2015 to 105 million by 2030.

Figure 1 – Population 1980-2015 and projections to 2050 – corrigendum this is for people aged 60 years or more, not 80 years as on the left of the graph
















How has this happened? Improvements in health, economic growth and higher levels of children in education are main contributors. WHO published its key messages for Health in All Policies (HiAP) in 2017 and followed this in 2018 with key learning from examples worldwide, stretching across all continents. This included social, economic and political contexts and is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2- Health in All Policies



















How much policies impact health is illustrated in Figure 3, showing social determinants at the top (95%) with health needs (75%), health inequity for disadvantaged populations (70%) and political commitment (70%) in the lead.

Figure 3 – Key drivers in delivering Health in All Policies















On average women tend to outlive men and therefore form a larger percentage of the older population. However, they tend to be more disadvantaged than men with higher rates of poverty, lower access to education, decent work (often unpaid), lack of access to social security and pensions as well as denial of the right to own and inherit property. They can be left caring, not only for themselves, but also the extended family, particularly where parents migrate to find work.

Women are disadvantaged not only by age and gender but also through lack of access to economic development, high levels of unpaid care work and minimal political participation but they are often actively involved in community and civic life through volunteering and participating in community-based organisations. Add the heightened risk of abuse, both physical and psychological, and greater levels of isolation and it becomes clear that older women are at particular disadvantage.

All the SDGs have implications for older women, stretching from People (SDGs 1-5), to Prosperity (SDGs 7-11) and Planet (SDGs 6 & 13-15) whilst it is imperative that we work with partners (SDG17) and through improved access to Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16) if we are to achieve the improvements we all wish to see, for all ages across all SDGs. The lack of age-disaggregated data in many countries makes comparison and monitoring particularly difficult. This needs to change.

What has happened since the arrival of COVID-19?

We know that the current pandemic affects older people most, and women in their roles as carers in both the health and social care sectors. Older people are often disadvantaged in all settings through unequal treatment in terms of human rights issues including, but not limited to discrimination, violence and abuse, social protection, long-term care, age-specific services, participation, access to justice and life-long pensions. There have been increases in isolation which have, in turn, led to an increase in an inability to access services and goods.  This applies worldwide and has led to the need to ensure equal access to healthcare (based on need not age) and increased social support.

Data from UN WOMEN and WHO reveal that men account for a larger proportion of deaths from Covid-19 than women. This leads to newly widowed women who are largely unseen, unsupported and unmeasured. Widows are often denied inheritance rights, lose their property and source of income (including pensions) and be accused of being the source of infection. These misperceptions need to be corrected if we are to minimise the effects of the pandemic and help older women gain their rightful place in society.

International Day for Older People (UNIDOP) 2020

The objectives of UNIDOP 2020 include:

  1. Raising awareness of the special health needs of older persons and of their contributions to their own health and to the functioning of the societies in which they live
  2. Increasing awareness and appreciation of the role of the health care workforce in maintaining and improving the health of older persons, with special attention to the nursing profession. 2020 is also the Year of the Nurse.
  3. Presenting proposals for reducing the health disparities between older persons in the developed and developing countries, so as to “leave no one behind”
  4. Increasing understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on older persons and its impact on health care policy, planning, and attitudes.

As soroptimists we can work to address inequalities for older people as well as trying to ensure that all ages are treated according to their need, in other words, applying the principle of equity on the way to justice for all.