International Community Must Strengthen Commitments to Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, Speakers Tell Social Development Commission, as Session Continues
To fully realize the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, the international community must intensify and strengthen its commitments to the well-being and rights of older persons, a senior United Nations official told the Commission for Social Development today during its high-level panel discussion on the Plan’s fourth review and appraisal.
“Now is the time to raise the ambition and urgency of our commitments for older persons,” Li Jinhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, emphasized in his opening remarks. With inequality at the centre of challenges and opportunities, issues that must be considered include access to health care, education and decent work. There must also be a rethinking of retirement policies, as well as a greater attention to the disparate plight of older women.
Pointing out that, by 2050, the number of older people is projected to be more than three times the number of children under the age of five and to be almost two thirds higher than the number of youths worldwide, he underscored that stakeholders must continue to draw on the guidance of the Madrid Plan. This would provide a solid foundation for social, economic, environmental and political changes that are needed to fully realize a society for ages, he stated.
Alexandre Sidorenko, Senior Advisor at the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, said that, despite progress in international and national action on ageing, the fourth review and appraisal nevertheless concluded that great disparities exist among and within regions in the rate of implementing the Madrid Plan of Action. Traditional notions of ageing as a time of decline and loss must be broken down by promoting a positive yet realistic image, he stressed, advocating for proactive and preventive efforts to adapt all of society to the demographic transition.
Commencing the high-level panel discussion, Aishath Mohamed Didi, Minister for Gender and Social Affairs of Maldives, highlighted the rapid population ageing in Asia and the Pacific, noting that countries have less time to adapt and implement policies to address related challenges and opportunities. Investment in digital technology is needed to address this, she said, observing that, at the fourth review, participating States recognized the importance of harnessing scientific research on ageing and on the use of technology for older persons, among other areas for action.
Heidrun Mollenkopf, Sociologist and Gerontologist, and board member of the German National Association of Senior Citizen’s Organisations, reported that, while two thirds of the global population are currently connected to the world wide web, one third is not, particularly women and older persons. On a global average, women had less access to the internet than men, while the global digital population aged 65 or older represented just 5.5 per cent of all internet users worldwide. The facts spell out not only a worldwide digital divide, but, in fact, a global divide between developed and less developed countries, as well as a social divide within each country, she said.
Carole Osero-Ageng'o, Representative of HelpAge International, a Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People Member Organization, stressed that ageing must be viewed from a life course approach. It must also be firmly placed on the radar of all Governments because it is relevant to the future of young people. “Young people are all older people in waiting,” she pointed out. It is therefore in their best interest to ensure that the future of the older people whom they will become.
Other panellists and representatives also provided regional perspectives on population ageing, as well as recommendations to advance implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action. Many speakers called for a convention on the rights of the elderly to strengthen the international system for the protection of older persons, with El Salvador’s representative, sharing that Latin America is pioneering such an instrument — the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons — which standardizes guarantees.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on “Emerging issues: addressing the social impacts of multifaceted crises to accelerate recovery from the lingering effects of the pandemic through the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Panellists and delegations described measures countries have taken to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic, including bolstering health-care systems, implementing large-scale skills-development programmes and launching vaccination campaigns.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m., on Thursday, 9 February, to continue its sixty-first session.
LI JINHUA, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said this morning’s discussion has special significance as the United Nations is commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and its Political Declaration. That Political Declaration recognized that concerted action is required to transform the opportunities and the quality of life of men and women as they age. Despite the uncertainty and increased pressure on resources caused by the ongoing crisis, more than half of all Member States participated in this review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action, representing 84 per cent of where older persons reside worldwide — a reaffirmation of the relevance and legitimacy of the Madrid Plan of Action.
“Now is the time to raise the ambition and urgency of our commitments for older persons,” he emphasized. Spotlighting related data, he said that by 2050, the number of older people is projected to be more than three times the number of children under the age of five and to be almost two thirds higher than the number of youths worldwide. Longevity has increased in almost all countries. Globally, life expectancy for babies born in 2022 is expected to be 72.3 years on average — 25 years longer than those born in 1950.
The international community must recognize that inequality is at the centre of challenges and opportunities surrounding population ageing, he continued, noting that some of the conclusions from the Madrid Plan’s fourth review and appraisal pointed to greater disparities among and within the regions in implementing the Plan. Differences in ageing profiles also determined how individual countries and regions prioritize policies, emerging issues and challenges.
Nonetheless, the Madrid Plan of Action continues to provide the core principles needed to address the multiple challenges that older persons face today, he underscored. Building on those principles is the recently launched World Social Report 2023 by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which highlighted some of the critical steps that must be taken to leave no one behind in the aging world. Among these to be considered are the issues of access to health care, education and decent work opportunities throughout the life course, as well as rethinking retirement policies and giving greater attention to the disparate plight of older women within the context of women’s empowerment.
He went on to say that the Madrid Plan of Action will have a key role in Member States’ discussions at upcoming global events, including the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit and the 2024 Summit of the Future. “To meet those expectations, we must continue to draw on the forward-looking guidance of the Plan of Action and provide a solid foundation to bring about far-reaching social, economic, environmental and political changes that are needed to fully realize a society for ages,” he said.
ALEXANDRE SIDORENKO, Senior Advisor at the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, said that progress in advancing international and national action on ageing is undeniable. Achievements have built on the Madrid Political Declaration which stated that “humanity must respond to the opportunities and challenges of ageing in the twenty-first century and contribute to building a society for all ages”. While such progress has been seen in all three priority directions — older persons and development, advancing health and well-being into old age and ensuring enabling and supportive environments — the fourth review and appraisal nevertheless concluded that great disparities exist among and within regions in the rate of implementing the Madrid Plan of Action. What are the causes of these disparities, he asked, adding: “Where did we miss?”
He pointed out that the international community has failed to convince society — and younger generations in particular — that the older years can be lived with dignity. Traditional notions of ageing as a time of decline and loss must be broken down by promoting a positive yet realistic image and by guaranteeing the human, social and economic rights of older people, he stressed, noting that this has been at the centre of the deliberations of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing. The international community has also been unable to convince economists, industrialists and politicians that older people are a potential resource for growth and development.
As ageing is still mostly seen as a problem and older people as a burden, the potential benefits of healthy longevity and a second demographic dividend are at best a nice scholarly construct, he noted. This potential also continues to be omitted in policymaking. The approach to ageing overall remains reactive, he added, advocating for proactive and preventive efforts as a complement to adapt all of society to the demographic transition and build a society for all ages. The developmental dimension of policy on ageing must also be aligned and intertwined with the humanitarian dimension as humanitarian crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic and instability in Africa, South-East Asia and Ukraine demonstrate that older persons are often being excluded.
There is an abundance of recommendations on what must be done, but the enduring challenge is how, he emphasized. Noting that the United Nations regional commissions have played a pivotal role in translating the Madrid Plan into a regional context and giving it a national context, he called for strengthened nationalization and the promotion of localization. The United Nations Inter-Agency Group on Ageing in that regard can serve as a platform for consultation and coordination with the regional commissions to promote bottom-up action. “We must rise to the challenges and accelerate the movement towards a society for all ages — before it is too late,” he stressed.
The Commission for Social Development this morning held a high-level panel discussion on the fourth review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
The discussion — moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Daniel Zavala Porras (Costa Rica) — featured presentations by Aishath Mohamed Didi, Minister for Gender and Social Affairs of Maldives, and Chair of the Intergovernmental Meeting for the Asia-Pacific Review and Appraisal; Mohammad Meqdady, Secretary-General of the Council of Family Affairs in Jordan; Paula Narváez Ojeda, Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations; Emem Omokaro, Director General of the National Senior Citizens Centre in Nigeria; Alfredo Ferrante, Coordinator at the Department of Family Policies at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of Italy and Chair of the Standing Working Group on Ageing of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe; Carole Osero-Ageng'o, Representative of HelpAge International, a Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People Member Organization; Heidrun Mollenkopf, Sociologist and Gerontologist, and board member of the German National Association of Senior Citizen’s Organisations; and the keynote speaker, Alexandre Sidorenko, Senior Advisor at the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.
Introducing the panel, Mr. PORRAS said that the main objective is to provide more information, from a regional perspective, than could be shared in the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action. This approach, he noted, is to stimulate an interactive discussion and facilitate an open exchange of views between all participants, including Member States and non‑governmental organizations.
Ms. DIDI, pointing out that, in Asia and the Pacific, population ageing is very rapid compared to other regions, said that it would take her country 13 years for the older population to increase from 7 to 14 per cent. Given this speed, countries have less time to adapt and implement policies to address the challenges and opportunities of population ageing. She recalled that, at the fourth review, participating States recognized the importance of regional cooperation in promoting training and skills development of caregivers of older persons; harnessing scientific research on ageing and on the use of technology for older persons; and quantifying caregiving contribution to older people in national accounts. States also committed to a number of national activities to ensure coordinated multisectoral responses; increase national awareness and response to ageing; develop social-protection systems; mainstream the perspective of older women into national responses; invest in digital technology to address challenges of population ageing; and strengthen partnerships. In this regard, States reaffirmed their commitment to promoting the rights of older person and emphasized synergies among the Madrid Plan of Action, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing. She underscored the importance of integrating population ageing in the development agenda and strengthening intergenerational solidarity.
Mr. MEQDADY said that care for the ageing varies across Arab countries, which have differing levels of income. Little interest in the topic could be due to family caring for the elderly within the household as opposed to it being considered a pillar of development. However, many elderly people are still at risk of poverty, exclusion and discrimination, and not all are included in social-protection programmes, as many Arab countries lack welfare programmes. In that regard, 62 per cent of the elderly are above the qualified age but do not receive pension benefits. Further, two out of three older persons are illiterate in six Arab countries. Elderly women enjoy less social protection than their male counterparts, with the pension benefit or salary for males about five times greater than the amount received by women. In addition, 85 per cent of the population are 60 years or older. As they are often heads of household, it would be challenging for them to spend on their own health care. People 65 and older also make up 31 per cent of persons with disabilities and must pay more for health care, thereby increasing their poverty risk. While available gerontology data is generally poor, many Arab countries have expanded their health insurance programmes. However, 70 per cent of the elderly in some of those countries are not covered in those schemes. More work is needed across the region, as well as globally, to develop social protection for them. He called for a switch in mentality regarding ageing, from it being about providing care to treating it as a development issue. Safety nets in Arab countries must be enhanced and a strengthened capacity is needed for health-care facilities, as well as support for non-governmental and civil society organizations and community-level initiatives. The convention on the rights of the elderly, which is still being developed, must be ratified and endorsed so that it can be used as a guide by all countries and prompt them to place ageing on their national agendas.
Ms. OJEDA underscored that the aging of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean generates new opportunities and challenges for societies. She reported that, in 2022, the regions’ population was 662 million, of which over 13 percent were persons over the age of 60. In 2030, this number will increase to 16.5 per cent of the total population. In 2050, a quarter of the total population will be persons over the age of 60. In Chile, the recent national survey on disability shows the relationship between having the least accessed to financial resources and the greater presence of disability and dependency. To advance human rights of all older persons, it is necessary to universalize their access to social protection and to quality health services. However, she continued, “this is much easier said than done”. To tackle the issue, she stressed the importance of structural changes, such as access to decent pensions and quality health care. She drew attention to the Santiago Declaration which underlines the commitment to the Madrid Plan and the promotion and protection of human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms of all older persons. States are responsible for adopting effective measures against discrimination based on age and eliminating challenges that remain in the region. To that end, she called for universal social-protection systems and guaranteed access to basic services and quality housing, recognizing the crucial role of civil society, the private sector and academia in disseminating the Madrid Plan. As well, the Santiago Declaration urged for a multilateral legal instrument to strengthen the international system for protecting older persons, she noted.
Ms. OMOKARO, presenting highlights from the African regional review, emphasized that the scale and speed of the continent’s demographic change calls for increased attention. There are notably significant variations in growth rates and patterns, with the Northern and Southern regions exhibiting rapid growth and the West and Central regions showing moderate to slow growth. People are now also living longer than they did two decades ago; Africa’s population aged 65 or older is estimated to more than triple to 173.6 million by 2050. The Madrid Plan provides comprehensive multisectoral and integrated policy objectives, she emphasized, pointing out that, without it, issues would remain fragmented, haphazard, ad hoc and within the welfare purview. So far, 18 countries have developed comprehensive national plans on ageing, strategies and various programmes with varying progress. Further, the regional review revealed that implementation lagged due to a lack of awareness and utilization of the Plan as a policy instrument; lack of national legislation to establish coordinating entities on ageing; weak institutional and human resources capacities; limited data and research capabilities; limited financing for ageing programmes; and diversity in responses which have presented challenges on definitions and minimum standards. As well, the Plan is also not always included in cross-ministerial synergies and coordination on the Sustainable Development Goals, Decade of Healthy Ageing and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. To accelerate the Plan’s implementation, there must be a legal backing, she stressed, offering her country’s national experience as an example for other African countries to follow. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons additionally provides normative standards and a compelling framework in that regard.
Mr. FERRANTE pointed out that, in the last five years, many countries of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) region focused on extending the working life of older persons by identifying older job-seekers as a key target group for employment policies and offering them tailored support. Moreover, efforts were made to compensate for and prevent the emergence of a gender pension gap. The 2022 Rome Ministerial Declaration adopted following the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Ministerial Conference on Ageing urged all member States to commit to the implementation of priority actions over the next five years. Those actions included the promotion of active and healthy ageing; ensuring access to long-term care and support for caregivers; and mainstreaming ageing to advance a society for all ages. In this regard, States committed to promoting healthy lifestyles by investing in strategies aimed at facilitating and encouraging physical activity, healthy nutrition and strengthening mental health among older people. Commitments have also been undertaken to supporting the continued role of informal and family care and helping caregivers balance between work and private life, strengthening intergenerational solidarity and ensuring equal distribution of care work between women and men. In addition, the Ministerial Declaration for the first time mainstreamed ageing as a key priority, with States committed to developing and strengthening a strategic framework for mainstreaming ageing across all policies; ensuring a participatory stakeholder engagement of older people in cross-sectoral dialogue; and collaborating on ageing among all relevant actors in the public and private sectors, academia, social partners and civil society.
Ms. OSERO-AGENG'O, pointing out that economic growth in Africa could be lost in a few decades if plans are not made for the growing older population, said the Madrid Plan is the first comprehensive global agreement which recognizes older people as contributors to the development of their societies. The outcomes of previous review cycles demonstrate that there is an opportunity to strengthen its implementation so that an increased number of Member States can mainstream ageing issues and the specific needs of older persons into their national policies. Ageing, she stressed, must be viewed from a life course approach and the reporting on the Madrid Plan, although voluntary, must be prioritized by Member States. Further, ageing must be firmly placed on the radar of all Governments because it is relevant to the future of young people, especially in Africa. In that regard, resources, coordination and technical support, as well as consultations with civil society and the meaningful participation of older people, are needed. Ageing is a reality that must be included in a firm human rights instrument, she said, pointing out that, while the Madrid Plan is an important international policy framework, there are certain gaps that can only be filled by a binding instrument. “Young people are all older people in waiting,” she pointed out. It is therefore in their best interest to ensure that the future of the older people whom they will become. More so, ageing is a critical part of development, she said, underscoring that older people have capabilities to contribute.
Ms. MOLLENKOPF reported that, between 2000 and 2019, life expectancy increased globally by more than six years. However, there are large regional differences. In 2021, life expectancy in the least developed countries lagged seven years behind the global average. She also observed that two thirds of the global population are currently connected to the world wide web and one third is not. This particularly applies to women and older persons. On a global average, women had less access to the internet than men, and the global digital population aged 65 or older represented just 5.5 per cent of all internet users worldwide. The facts spell out not only a worldwide digital divide, but, in fact, a global divide between developed and less developed countries, as well as a social divide within each country. On the growing flow of refugees worldwide, there are currently more than 3 million older men and almost 2 million older women on the run. Voicing concern over inadequate legal protections for older persons, she pointed to the persistent ageism and discrimination; persistence of violence, especially against older women; and the growing share of that population living alone. In this context, she stressed the need to promote geriatric and gerontological research that collects age- and sex-differentiated data on older people, ensuring the inclusion of older women, the oldest old and frail older persons, as well as those living in nursing homes. To substantiate the Madrid Plan process, she called on Governments to adopt a legally binding instrument that applies worldwide to safeguard in all policy areas the equal application of universal human rights in older age.
The floor then opened up to questions and comments from delegations and participants.
The representative of Kenya, giving a detailed overview of her Government’s programmes on older persons, also reported that Kenya is currently working towards universal health coverage, including by providing health insurance subsidies for vulnerable groups. Further, the Constitution forbids age-based discrimination, she said, sharing that her Government ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa in February 2022.
The representative of Zambia, noting that most of the older persons in her country are based in rural areas, said that her Government developed a national ageing policy which was aligned with the Plan to protect and promote the rights of older persons and improve their welfare. Other national initiatives include, among others, exempting persons aged 65 and above from paying health-related user fees, prioritizing the payment of pension arrears for older persons, safeguarding livelihoods and income security and ensuring social inclusion and dignity.
The representative of Azerbaijan shared that his country worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to develop an active aging index which helped to systematize his Government’s work in a more integrated manner, identify tangible deliverables and raise public awareness.
The representative of Türkiye detailed her country’s strategies focused on mainstreaming ageing policies. She also spotlighted the fragile conditions and high vulnerability of older persons in times of crisis, whether by climate change, war, migration or disastrous events. She reported that, due to the recent, devastating earthquake in Türkiye, thousands of older persons from provinces affected by the earthquake and aftershocks have been transferred to safer places. In light of that, she asked how the Plan can be strengthened in the future with respect to such events.
The Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of Portugal, underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected the elderly. In this regard, she urged Governments to put in place comprehensive policies and develop new ways to promote active and healthy life, while accelerating implementation of new models to ensure participation of the elderly and combat their isolation, exclusion and ageism. Pointing out that the Madrid Plan provided a clear blueprint, she encouraged the Member States to accelerate its implementation. “Let us work together to ensure that the elderly are not left behind,” she stated.
The representative of Argentina pointed out that the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing is the only entity in the United Nations system dealing with the protection of human rights of older persons. Observing that four out of seven Member States have participated in the fourth review, she noted that, for the first time, all regions and non-governmental organizations acknowledged the importance of having an international legal framework for protecting the right of older people. Developing a biding international legal instrument will only complement the document. She then asked how Governments could strengthen the intergenerational approach to ensure that persons of all ages can be involved in the global agenda on ageing.
The representative of El Salvador noted that stereotypes on ageing lead to age-based discrimination. Recalling that ageing determines dependence and independence of persons, she called for the promotion of inclusive societies, emphasizing that differences and demographic trends should not be a reason for segregation. Rather, the ageing of the population can be transformed in a driver of development. Highlighting the importance of creating a specific legal instrument with a binding nature, she pointed out that Latin America is pioneering such a legally binding instrument — the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons — that standardizes guarantees as no other binding international instrument had considered before.
The representative of Cuba said that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba has the highest share of older persons, at 22.3 per cent of their population. She outlined the national plan for protection of older people, which promotes their inclusion in decision-making and policies, adding that Cuba is supporting and following the development of a binding legal international instrument that would complement the Madrid Plan. The aim of her Government, nationally and internationally, is to tackle the obstacles caused by the economic blockade against Cuba for more than 60 years, which has impacted older persons. She then asked about what impact unilateral measures have had on the protection of the rights of older persons.
The representative of Canada, touching on various points made by the speakers, asked where the international community might be missing the mark. She wondered whether the panellists could further reflect on that, rather than reporting only on the work done by key commissions. Noting the mentioned need to change the discourse and look at opportunities for the well-being of seniors and how they contribute to future prosperity, she underscored that they have a wealth of knowledge and remain as key pillars of society. That might be the thought that should be borne in mind with respect to older persons, she said.
The representative of Finland, also representing non-governmental organizations present at the meeting, remarked that she is part of the populations aged 60 to 100 years old. She asked what recommendations the panellists might have for older persons, such as herself, in terms of their responsibility to speak up, make demands and show their resources.
The representative of Spain recalled that his country, in 2007, held a conference in Leon on ageing with the United Nations Economic Commission, and in 2008, created with others a working group on ageing within that Commission. Spotlighting his country’s activities, as well as its range of policies in line with the Madrid Plan, he said Spain will continue those efforts through setting up domestic policies based on the Madrid Plan. He also voiced hope that such efforts would lead to a new plan of action to be adopted at a possible third global assembly on ageing.
The representative of Morocco recalled that his country, together with Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, El Salvador and Slovenia, issued a joint statement that, among other things, supported the Secretary-General's appeal to promote responses to the pandemic based on the rights and dignity of older people, as well as global solidarity. Noting that older persons still face discrimination and violence in many parts of the world, he underscored the urgent need to decide on the question of an international legal framework that guarantees the exercise by older persons of all human rights and freedoms on an equal basis with other segments of society.
The representative of Ukraine said that the war has not only significantly increased the share of the elderly population in Ukraine, but has also posed new challenges to their lives. Despite the difficult conditions, the Governments was able to organize social transportation for people living in areas that are often under fire or close to the warfare zones. As of today, there are more than 10 million pensioners in Ukraine while millions of people have lost their jobs. In this context, the Government developed a digital tool for making pension contributions without reference to official employment.
The representative of Malaysia said that, in an effort to better protect the rights of older persons, the Government has implemented a number of initiatives, encompassing social protection, home facilities and care services, as well as financial assistance for the elderly poor. He asked the panellists about promising practices that can be implemented to better understand the role of various agencies — such as health, welfare, equation and justice — in response to the challenges of ageing.
The representative of the International Federation on Ageing said that “longevity is to celebrated, not to be feared”. However, social protection and social security, as well as health services, have been found to be inadequate in all reviews of the Madrid Plan, she said, pointing to the challenges of poverty, violence and abuse, as well as the need for more data. She asked the panellists what is stopping Governments from moving forward on a convention that would complement the Madrid Plan.
The representative of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stressed the need to foster the adoption of a legally binding instrument at the global level. In a regional context — characterized by overlapping crises — he called for progress on the priority areas of the Madrid Plan, as well as on emerging issues such as long-term care. He asked the panellists which areas of the Plan need to be strengthened in terms of policy.
The representative of AARP reported that, in the United States, people aged 50 and older contribute $8.3 trillion to the economy, a figure which is expected to triple by 2050. Economy activity notably supports 88.6 million jobs. However, age discrimination accounted for $850 billion lost in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. As age is not a static number, she asked the international community when it will shift the narrative and stop talking about older persons as a drain on the economy.
Ms. OJEDA, responding to the comments and questions, underscored the value and need of focusing on development, promoting and protecting human rights through legally binding instruments and ensuring the active involvement of citizens and civil society organizations. On transforming sociocultural norms and mindsets regarding older people, she said this requires an intergenerational debate and the involvement of all in designing and implementing public policies for older persons. Discussing the forest fires in her country, Chile — which resulted in older persons having to flee their homes and be evacuated — she pointed out that social protection can address all interlinked aspects affecting the lives of persons.
The representative of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) stressed that what happens in his region will shape trends at the global level. As population ageing is an achievement that must be adjusted to and taken advantage of, he urged all to avoid using words such as “crisis”, “burden” and “disaster”. He then asked about addressing negative stereotypes and avoiding negative portrayals of older persons.
The representative of People Empowering People Africa shared that his father — a senior citizen — was currently caring for his grandson, an example of how the elderly often take on unpaid caregiver roles. In that regard, he asked, among other things, how the international community can address issues of unpaid care and labour among the older persons populations. He also asked how the Madrid Plan can be popularized so that people around the world can understand it.
The representative of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse encouraged Governments to ensure that older people do not become among the “poorest of the poor”; have adequate social protection; and have access to health services, preventive medicines and vaccines. Further, older persons should not be deprived from employment opportunities because of their age nor should they be left out from creating inclusive, safe and resilient cities. She then asked how a binding international instrument complement can strengthen the Madrid Plan and enhance compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. DIDI, responding to questions posed by the representatives of Canada and Finland, spotlighted the importance of taking a life-course approach to ageing and recognizing that a population’s ageing affects society as a whole. Acknowledging climate change as a global and regional megatrend, she said that older persons are not only among the most vulnerable affected by the phenomenon. In Maldives, older persons have traditional knowledge on the use of natural resources, understand the signs of natural disaster and have traditional coping mechanisms. Therefore, they should be included in future summits on the crisis. Pointing out the interrelation between population ageing and gender equality, she said that women tend to be less likely to enjoy the benefits of social protection. In Asia and the Pacific, female caregivers often give up work to care for family members. Societies need to find a way to ensure that integrated and quality care, in particular long-term care, is provided to those in need.
Mr. MEQDADY, noting that the issue of the elderly is not often considered by political decision-makers, said that the international convention on older persons could answer a number of questions being raised. He highlighted the role of civil society and of older persons, saying they could control governmental measures to ensure their rights are guaranteed. Spotlighting the issue of health care and pensions, he suggested, among others, considering enhancing health care and ensuring pensions and appropriate infrastructure of essential services required by the elderly. Furthermore, older people should be included as stakeholders in development processes, he added, noting that the convention could help achieve development changes.
Ms. OMOKARO, pointing out that the Madrid Plan is a relevant policy document, spotlighted the lack of a strategic road map to bring stakeholders as partners and collaborators to mainstream ageing. Spotlighting the importance of partnerships and collaboration in regard to ageing, she said that such engagement should be enhanced and should enable creation of new opportunities by including new initiatives. Developing strategic pathways of the Madrid Plan of Action is needed, along with a monitoring and evaluation mechanism that could be used locally. She also outlined the importance of a legal framework to ensure effective implementation.
Mr. FERRANTE said a cultural paradigm shift is needed to change societies. Also needed are political commitments, ideas and inputs from non-governmental organizations, and mainstreaming of ageing in policies. “This is what [the Madrid Plan of Action] told us to do; we need to strive and continue to do so,” he said.
Ms. OSERO-AGENG'O, highlighting the need to integrate issues of older persons in all aspects of life, asked how development can be achieved if a critical component of the population is left behind. Regarding intergenerational dialogues, she cautioned about it becoming a buzzword, stressing that such dialogues must be meaningful. “Let’s bring the energy of the youth and the wisdom of the older people together,” she said, adding: “If we do nothing to address the problem such as ageism then younger people are going to face ageism when they become older.” Regarding human rights, she said: “If we are taking care of the rights of children, women and different sections of our population, why do we stop when we get to the older ages? We have to continue protecting our rights as we age.” Stressing the need to strengthen the Madrid Plan, she underlined the opportunity to have a convention to protect the rights of older people in a way that ensures accountability on the part of Governments and their citizens.
Ms. MOLLENKOPF said the Madrid Plan must be further developed in different dimensions so that it can continue to be a viable basis for political action. The issues that must be addressed include the profound environmental changes within which ageing occurs, which varies between regions, urban and rural areas, and countries. Older persons must be included when considering what must be improved, she underscored, noting that this would also help prevent the negative image of ageing. If Governments or organizations see how older people can contribute, they will no longer be regarded as “a bit stupid, a bit frail, a bit ill, a bit taking too much time”, but viewed as important in the improvement of political measures. A sound empirical basis or good data is needed for policy decisions relating to older persons. Also needed are accompanying and reinforcing measures to ensure actual implementation of policy commitments. Such measures must apply and work worldwide. With respect to protecting older persons and their rights, this can only be an internationally binding instrument, such as a convention on the protection of older persons rights, she stated.
Commission Chair Alya Ahmed Saif al-Thani (Qatar) said that the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects have led to a reversal in human development in almost every country of the world. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Human Development Index — which measures a nation’s health, education and standard of living — has declined for the first time in 32 years, reversing much of the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Other challenges such as the climate emergency and conflicts around the world are further complicating countries’ efforts to recover from the pandemic. As these multiple and interlinked global crises mean that the world is now off-track towards achieving the Global Goals, she stressed: “We must correct course quickly.”
The Commission for Social Development then held a panel discussion in the afternoon on emerging issues.
Moderated by Hanna Sarkkinen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, the panel featured presentations by Luciana Tito, Head of the Advisory Cabinet Unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina; Εleni Nikolaidou, Director of Development Cooperation Policy at Hellenic Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece; Maha Hamad Alattiya, International Projects Manager at the Ministry of Social Development and Family of Qatar; Anthony Mveyange, Former Executive Director of the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research; and Lara Hicks, Executive Assistant and Assistant to the United Nations Representative for UNANIMA International, and Executive Assistant for the United Nations NGO Committee for Social Development.
Ms. SARKKINEN stressed that no country is immune to the social impacts of the world’s multiple and overlapping crises. Regions, countries and groups that were the most vulnerable before are also the ones most affected by it, thus widening inequalities between and within countries. Many people and communities, relying on precarious sources of income, have lost their livelihoods while basic living costs have risen rapidly, pushing millions into poverty and extreme poverty. In response, countries have introduced different measures to mitigate impacts. Well-functioning institutions — including solid and flexible social protection floors — can effectively strengthen resilience and mitigate negative impacts, she underscored, offering her country’s national experience with universal social protection systems as an example.
Ms. TITO said that the triple crises facing the world today — the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and foreign debt — have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis between developed and developing countries. Argentina took a number of measures, establishing a lockdown system, bolstering its health-care system, developing vaccines and launching a very effective vaccination campaign. In September 2021, half the population received their vaccines, she said, reporting that Argentina had one of the highest rates of vaccination due to a federal vaccination campaign that distributed vaccines in all provinces of the country. Argentina implemented policies to protect employment, prohibited dismissals from work and established a compensation system. Currently, in the post-pandemic period, the Government established programmes for job creation to promote decent work. Today, Argentina has its highest employment rate in 53 months, with an unemployment rate of 6 per cent. In 2018, the national debt of Argentina exceeded the country’s ability to repay, she stressed, lamenting high interest rates. Argentina was able to refinance its debt, allowing the country to avoid taking austerity measures. Today, Argentina still needs to import liquified natural gas, she said, pointing to the creation of a gas pipeline.
Ms. NIKOLAIDOU spotlighted her Government’s response to the pandemic, including regulated primary-residence mortgage loans, food-support schemes, employability support for young people at risk, including those with a migrant or refugee background, and a recovery and resilience fund, among others. Soaring food prices and other conflicts however are putting the Sustainable Development Goals at risk by exacerbating existing challenges. Urging all to invest in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, she highlighted the Peacebuilding Commission’s crucial role and said Greece presented its candidacy as a non-permanent Security Council member for 2025-2026. As well-targeted fiscal policies can support a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery, key actions for mobilizing finance include increased private investments, Sustainable Development Goals bonds, strengthened international tax cooperation, domestic revenue support strategies and official development assistance (ODA). Climate change financing in particular requires leveraging the private sector to close this large gap. She also underscored the need for longer-term governance to focus more on prevention and preparedness by strengthening the independence, authority and financing of the World Health Organization (WHO) while accelerating product development and access to health technology in low- and middle-income countries. At the heart of all policies must be human rights and the integration of gender equality, she added.
Ms. ALATTIYA reported that, during the pandemic, her Government provided free vaccines for all residents in the Qatari territory. It also used artificial intelligence and innovative technology to control and limit the spread of the pandemic. Ranking seventh in the world in terms of domestic vaccinations, Qatar allocated $20 million to the vaccine alliance Gavi, and in March 2021, the Qatar Fund for Development contributed $10 million to WHO to support its thirteenth action plan. Her country launched an initiative to provide $100 million towards ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are provided to countries most in need of assistance. Turning to socioeconomic development, she said her country has allocated $20 million in financial incentives to help the private sector following the COVID-19 crisis, also working with banks to postpone or cancel debt repayments and reducing electricity and water bills for a six-month period. Additionally, the total international aid allocated in 2021 by the Qatar Fund for Development was $500 million, assisting least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. She stressed that armed conflict around the world prevents growth and progress, also spotlighting the urban and development disparities within and between countries that stem from problems with the global knowledge economy. Expanding the scope of successive policies at the national level — and then sharing them with other countries — is the best way to achieve success, she stressed, adding that global threats require global solutions.
Mr. MVEYANGE, spotlighting measures to address the impact of the pandemic in Africa, said cash-transfer programmes and schemes have been implemented rapidly across different countries, such as South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. Agricultural development programmes have also been implemented, he said, pointing to the potential of employing young people in the agricultural sector. Turning to education and health initiatives, he said awareness-raising campaigns are ongoing to educate the public about the importance of vaccines. To address food security, food safety‑net programmes, nutrition programmes and food-crisis stabilization mechanisms, have been put in place. Regarding climate change, he said African countries are increasing the use of renewable energy, low-carbon development, sustainable land management and climate-change adaptation. Highlighting the degree of water insecurity in the continent, he described “sextortion” whereby young women exchange sex for water. Thus, there is a need to improve water governance. To address cost-of-living concerns, he said Governments and central banks have taken measures to control inflation, provide subsidies and finance social protection. To address fragility and conflict, he spotlighted peacebuilding efforts, as well as regional initiatives. Underscoring that $108 billion is needed for the gap in Sustainable Development Goal financing, he called for investments in resilient infrastructure and sustainable economic recovery through green investments, inclusive job creation and tax reforms that prioritize poverty and inequality reduction and gender equality.
Ms. HICKS said that, in order for all people to achieve a better quality of life, challenges such as migration, homelessness, displacement and care for the environment must be addressed. She identified three core emerging issues that many countries face: loss of livelihoods, demographic changes and lack of funding for social protections. Root causes of loss of livelihoods can be attributed to climate change and natural disasters, discriminatory policies and conflict. Regarding the growing concern about rapid urbanization and population growth or decline, she highlighted growing changes in the family unit in which a typical nuclear unit is rapidly changing, adding that better policies are needed to accommodate that change. Regarding forced or voluntary migration flows, she stressed the need to support people throughout their journey. Without adequate funding for social protection, millions of people will lose their social nets, she said, urging for people-centred policies. To this end, she stressed the importance of prioritizing the global homelessness and housing crises, relaxing restrictive migration procedures and subsidizing jobs. Spotlighting good practices, she drew attention to Sophia Housing in Dublin, Ireland, which provides services for families, couples and individuals and focuses on prevention measures. Another example of a good practice is represented by Kenya’s national hygiene programme, supporting youth that were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, improving urban infrastructure as well as employment rates for youth. It resulted in better quality of life for vulnerable people, she noted.
The floor then opened up to questions and comments from delegations and participants.
The representative of Indonesia said his Government designed a large-scale skills-development programme over the pandemic as a conditional cash transfer to enable participants to buy online trainings and provide them with cash incentives to purchase essential goods. As a result, 16 million people have been able to obtain, maintain or be one step closer to decent work. The Government has been able to reduce corruption by utilizing a consumer-centric mechanism to pay participants directly, facilitated financial inclusion by including fintech and built an ecosystem of public-private partnerships.
A youth delegate of Switzerland underlined the pandemic’s consequences on young people in terms of their worsening mental health and increasing difficulties with accessing work. Among other things, he advocated for quality education, physical and mental care, and good economic opportunities, such as paid internships and affordable housing. Young people’s participation in all decision-making processes must be strengthened. Welcoming the new United Nations Youth Office, he called for further investments in education for youth.
The representative of China said, among other things, that digital connectivity and a green transformation are critical for an inclusive recovery to be sustainable. There must also be fair, sustainable and adaptable social security system, established in line with national realities, to ensure the resilience of this recovery, he added, underlining the need to address the related challenges of urbanization, ageing and diversified working modalities.
The representative of Djibouti, noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides States with a host of solutions, pointed out the great diversity in the usage of the term “crisis”. He asked the presenters to reflect on the widespread use of this term and to provide direction on implementing lessons learned on the ground.
The representative of Azerbaijan said that, after the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become essential to regularly revise national development goals, socioeconomic priorities and budget allocations. He also stressed the need to enhance, expand and intensify public-awareness activities and promote enhanced reporting — with concrete deliverables — in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said that the Russian Federation’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine is producing devastating effects for a world already suffering from COVID-19 and climate change. She then asked what population groups should be targeted by specific national policies to address to social impact of a multifaceted crisis. She also asked what role the private sector, trade unions and civil society can play in helping to get full implementation of the 2030 Agenda “back on track” in the wake of COVID-19.
The representative of Zimbabwe noted that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the inadequacies of social-protection programmes and the extent of the urban-rural divide. He asked how such programmes can be made shock-responsive and — spotlighting the difficulty of designing social protection in urban environments where poverty mapping might be challenging — how countries can best go about this process.
The representative of Senegal welcomed discussions relating to the challenges of financing global public goods and to the legal status that could be attributed to the same. Also welcoming the presentation centred on good practices, he said that his country launched a flagship initiative to provide housing for domestic workers. Noting the challenges of capitalizing on good practices and initiatives, he asked how such practices can be scaled-up in Africa and elsewhere.
Ms. TITO underscored the role of the State and public policies in order to allow countries to recover from the pandemic. Highlighting the importance of multilateralism, she said that the crisis has demonstrated how important it is to cooperate at the international level in tackling challenges, including supply chains disruptions.
Ms. NIKOLAIDOU, also reiterating the role of State in crisis response, said that the private sector plays an important role. That sector needs to be incentivized and become more active considering that Governments do not have unlimited resources. Calling for mobilizing different shareholders and donors, she stressed the importance of cooperation in channelling development assistance to developing countries more efficiently. Countries must find their own paths and the developed world needs to focus on capacity-building of these countries, she said, pointing to policies adopted in Greece that focus on minorities, including refugees.
Ms. ALATTIYA said the crisis is changing people’s everyday life like a volcano. She stressed the need to establish social-protection measures and set up a response plan, to work on outreach and training and to address the issue of sustainability. By investing in the private sector, Qatar supported it in a lasting way, she said.
Mr. MVEYANGE, underlining that young people should be the centre of every discussion and have increased participation in decision-making, reported that 70 per cent of the population in Africa are young people. Highlighting the need to “recalibrate how we think” and increase public awareness, he described civil society as a watch dog that enhances the voice of the voiceless.
Ms. HICKS emphasized the need to think of crises in the long and short term while recognizing their compounding and different effects on people. If the international community does not address the long-term effects of demographic changes now, that will become an immediate crisis. Her organization works throughout Africa, especially in the sub-Saharan and Southern regions, and draws on the experience of its members in Malawi who had to adapt to the homelessness crisis caused by a cyclone. She then challenged everyone to think more broadly about what it means to lose a “home” in terms of community, country, culture and livelihood. On young people, she reaffirmed the importance of their participation in decision-making processes but underscored the need to draw on the wisdom of older and ageing people through intergenerational exchanges.
Ms. SARKKIEN, reiterating that universal social protections can help people in times of normality and crisis, pointed out that sufficient funding for these protections and the Sustainable Development Goals continue to remain a common and constant struggle. Although ODA is important, this is not enough, she stressed, calling for new and innovative solutions including through global cooperation on taxation and financial flows. For universal social protections, sustainable financing can be achieved through progressive taxation and social security contributions; for the Global Goals, States can facilitate private money and funding through incentives, regulations and taxation. Universal social-protection systems must be developed with social partners, civil society organizations and other interest groups so as to ensure legitimacy, ownership and their proper functioning. “While one may sometimes feel powerless considering the wars and crises raging around the globe, we must remember that most problems can be solved if there is enough common and political will and if we will work together,” she stressed, urging all to get back on track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.