The United Nations, founded in 1945, is currently made up of 193 Member States. You might ask “where does ageing fit into the UN’s mandate?” Actually, all of the issues mentioned above impact older persons. While the UN has a unit that focuses on ageing, the needs and concerns of older persons are often not top of mind as the Member States grapple with global problems and solutions.
That’s where the IFA Representatives to the UN come in. Working with other NGOs, they advocate for the creation of an age-inclusive society where no one is left behind. A major focus for the next several years is to work toward a universal legally-binding convention to protect the human rights of older persons. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as much work has to be done to inform and persuade the UN Member States, offices within the UN and other NGOs that the issues facing older persons deserve special attention and action in order to promote a life course perspective.
How Does IFA do its work at the United Nations?
IFA has five seasoned professionals from the field of ageing who have the role of IFA’s UN Representatives (in the photo from left to right): Frances Zainoeddin, Dr. Cynthia Stuen (Main Representative), James O’Neal, Valerie Levy, and Dr. Sandra Timmermann and Frances Zainoeddin. Aligned with the IFA vision, goal and priorities their job is to advocate for ‘ageing’ to be on the UN agenda, while harnessing and mobilize support for strategies into action.
There are several major convenings that IFA and other NGOs focus on each year. To prepare for these events, the UN Representatives work with the IFA headquarters and other stakeholders to prepare statements and papers, meet with Permanent Missions of Member States, organize panel discussions, develop talking points, and network with influencers who might have interest in joining the efforts to call attention to ageing. Two important meetings are coming up in the next few months.
UN Commission for Social Development
The first is the 57th Session of the UN Commission for Social Development, to be held 11-21 February 2019. The Commission is the advisory body responsible for the social development pillar of global development. The theme this year is addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies. The emerging issue to be covered is the empowerment of people affected by natural and human-made disasters to reduce inequality: addressing the differential impact on persons with disabilities, older persons and youth.
IFA is also sponsoring a side event during the Session on 12 February 2019 — on “Fostering Resilience Across the Life Course Through Universal Health Coverage.” The objective of this side event is to showcase UHC as a policy measure for equitable promotion of health and resilience across the life course. Expert presentations and discussions will illustrate how aligning health systems to the needs of older persons can help support sustainable development, including disaster risk reduction. Dr. Jane Barratt will be the moderator, while the speakers will be:
Click here to view the full flyer for more details.
UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing
The second major undertaking that IFA UN Representatives are involved in in 2019 is the Tenth Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA), on 15-18 April 2019. The mission of OEWGA is to consider the existing human rights treaties in the context of older persons, identify possible gaps and how best to address them, in order to decide the feasibility of elaborating a separate legal instrument to protect the rights of older persons.
The two focus areas for this session are “social protection and social security including social protection floors” and “education, training, lifelong learning and capacity-building.” The OEWGA will also be considering the possible “normative elements” that derive from a human right (the standard or norm), with specific discussion of the two focus areas of the 9th session, namely “autonomy and independence,” and “long-term and palliative care.”
Recognizing strength in numbers, IFA has invited several national NGO members to provide comments to the Call for Inputs, which would then be provided as single submission per focus area. IFA is also planning to cosponsor a side event in collaboration with the Stakeholders Group on Ageing of Africa.
Other UN Involvement
There are events and ongoing activities that are happening at the UN throughout the year. IFA is right there to provide expertise, support and impact in preparations for the following, to name a few:
In addition to IFA, all NGOs can be involved in advocating for a life course approach to international policy and in working toward a convention for the human rights of older persons. Your voices need to be heard.
 United Nations Website, Overview, http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/overview/index.html
Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA) is an IFA member and community partner that advocates for the rights of older people in Cameroon. With a staff of 8 and a network of over 450 volunteers, CDVTA Director (and IFA Board Member) Mr Francis Njuakom is proud of the work done for older people in Cameroon “because [they] are the only organization in [their] country that is actively engaged in face-to-face work with older people.”
At CDVTA their vision is a society where older people lead fulfilled lives, and this is promoted through community groups, initiatives to improve livelihoods and advocacy for rights. Volunteers play an integral role to the work of CDVTA, supporting 25 community groups for older people throughout the region. Once trained, volunteers return to their communities and conduct home visits, organize training and materials for projects like organic farming, and support income generation portfolios.
There is extensive research that highlights the relationship between volunteering and positive outcomes for older adults. In a study conducted by Dr Morrow-Howell (The Gerontologist, 2009) findings included perceived benefits to both recipients and volunteers, noting that “older adults perceived that volunteering benefited them, their families, and their communities.” Reinforcing this study is a recent report published in 2017 from Dr Shea (University of Vermont) which concludes that there is “much potential to be tapped in bringing together agendas for productive ageing and support of older people in community contexts… [therefore helping] to build and support age-friendly communities.”
With the help of engaged volunteers CDVTA has been able to build a strong network of engaged citizens, helping them to assert their rights and advocate on a range of policy issues. Most notably CDVTA called for a National Policy on Ageing which proposes improving health, a universal non-contributory pension, social well-being initiatives and essential services for older people in Cameroon. It has since been validated by their government.
While Mr Njuakom is proud of CDVTA’s work, he also recognizes that “in Cameroon [there are] many more organizations interested in supporting older people, but funding is scarce.” They have been successful because of the support they receive in funding and the dedication of their volunteers. Moving forward the organization is looking to grow the services that directly support enhancing the livelihood of older people.
Interested in supporting CDVTA? Contact Mr Francis Njuakom at email@example.com
In 2018 the IFA held its largest global conference to date, convening over 1200 delegates. However, there are many more people who wanted to participate and were unable. As such, it is with great excitement that the IFA announces a new Post-Conference Education Webinar Series featuring the most popular and emerging sub-themes within the framework of addressing inequalities, age-friendly environments, combating ageism and toward healthy ageing.
Throughout 2019 the IFA will host twelve webinars, divided into four learning programs representing the IFA2018/2020 Conference themes.
Combating Ageism is the first theme that the webinar series will address. Discrimination against individuals based on their age has serious consequences on many aspects of an older person’s life, such as health, wellbeing, employment, housing and access to social and care systems.
Human Rights of Older Persons and Agenda 2030 is the first webinar in the series and will address key areas for implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that ensures it fulfils its mandate for older persons.
The webinar is scheduled for Tuesday 29 January 2019, 12:00 – 1:00pm EST and will be presented by:
Please contact Ms Hannah Girdler to be placed on the mailing list for further updates regarding the Post-Conference Webinar Series.