International Day of Older Persons – taking action to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights throughout life

Strasbourg 30/09/2022
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International Day of Older Persons – taking action to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights throughout life

“Member states should act to promote active ageing and ensure that older persons in Europe can fully enjoy their human rights,” said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, ahead of the International Day of Older Persons.

“Active ageing* goes beyond possibilities on the labour market, and includes opportunities for independent living, adequate access to health care, and participation in society according to one’s needs, desires, and capacities. In order to advance these goals, as I have previously stated in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the basic principles of autonomy, independence, and respect for every person’s dignity must always be at the heart of policy concerning older persons. Active ageing policies should be based on the recognition of the human rights of older persons, in line with international standards. In this regard, there is a need to shift from viewing older persons primarily as beneficiaries of care to recognising them as independent rights-holders.

There are positive developments and initiatives at regional level that help identify and overcome the specific barriers older people may face in the realisation of their human rights. I encourage member states to continue this engagement and to strengthen measures to combat those barriers at national level.

For this purpose, countering ageism in all its forms – stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination based on age – is key. According to the WHO, half of the world’s population has ageist attitudes about older persons. False but often socially accepted narratives of old people being dependent, frail and less competent by default can have detrimental consequences for the human rights of older persons. It is imperative that member states take all necessary measures to tackle ageism and its adverse effects. An important step in this direction is to ensure that legislation prohibits age-discrimination in all areas.

It is also crucial that national policies reflect the reality of the diversity of older persons. As people age, their situations continue to be influenced by a myriad of factors such as their living environments, family and financial situations, education opportunities and immigration status. However, irrespective of these determinants, every person has the right to age in an active and healthy way. Member states should consider intersectional dimensions that may lead to higher risks of facing discrimination, such as disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender. Notably, ‘gender blind’ active ageing policies should be revised to ensure that they address the different situations and challenges older women, but also men, face due to deeply entrenched inequalities and harmful stereotypes persisting in our societies. I see an increasing role for NHRIs, equality bodies, and civil society in shaping policies, for example by reporting the domestic situation and holding governments to account if necessary, but also by sharing best practices at European level.

I call on all member states to show firm commitment to securing the rights of older persons. Like ageing, human rights are universal. They should not be denied or diminished with age.”

* Active ageing is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “the process of optimising the opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age”.