Around the World in Eldercare: The United Nations OEWG on Ageing

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 02 October 2012

In late August, organizations and individuals from all over the world gathered in New York for the Third Session of the OEWG (Open-Ended Working Group) on Ageing.

Established in December 2010 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the group convenes annually to “consider the existing international framework of the human rights of older persons and identify possible gaps and how best to address them, including by considering, as appropriate, the feasibility of further instruments and measures.”

This particular session was focused on the global issue of “strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons,” a laudable and necessary goal in a world where older persons will soon be the dominant demographic.

Still, in these settings, it is difficult to translate ideas to action, to recognize or track measurable progress, to hold countries and communities accountable for change and results. Nevertheless, the fact that there are individuals committed to working on these issues, which seem to be largely ignored by leaders around the world, is heartening.

Among those individuals: Bethany Brown from HelpAge, an international organization whose work I follow closely and applaud regularly.

Brown posted updates from her time in New York, sharing an article each day of the gathering. (Check out Day One: UN Open-ended Working Group on Aging and click on “next blog” at the bottom of the article to scroll through all the updates.)

She highlighted several of the issues covered, with much discussion surrounding the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) treaty in relation to human rights violations against elders. Other topics on the table included age discrimination, autonomy, healthcare, palliative care, independent living, access to resources, social security, dignity, violence and abuse against elders, and access to justice.

These are big subjects to tackle in just a few days, although I imagine the OEWG participants don’t expect change to happen overnight. However, with challenges of this size and significance, you have to start somewhere, and you have to start by talking through the possibilities, the good ideas and the bad ones, the feasible solutions and the radical ones. Eventually, such forward thinking leads to change.

No matter how small the shifts may be, we should all be working together, in our respective corners of the world, to value, support and empower our elders. They are our grandparents and great-grandparents, our matriarchs and patriarchs. How will you defend their rights and uphold their dignity as valuable human beings?



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