Ministerial Conference on Ageing: European states commit to stronger policies domestically and internationally
The Ministerial Conference on Ageing held in Rome by the United Nations Economic Commission in Europe (UNECE) mapped the progress made under the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) in the UNECE region and agreed on a roadmap for the future. With our numerous member organisations present at the conference we called for a rights-based approach in the implementation of the MIPAA renewed policy commitments on ageing and for a binding international instrument to combat the specific barriers that older people face in respect of their human rights.
From 16 to 17 June 2022, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) organized, in cooperation with the Italian Government, a Ministerial Conference on Ageing to complete the 4th review and appraisal cycle (2018-2022) of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and its Regional Implementation Strategy. The conference with the focus on "A sustainable World for All Ages - Joining forces for solidarity and equal opportunities throughout life" marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the MIPAA.
During the three days, national delegations, civil society and researchers discussed the interactions between the international processes on human rights of older persons and on comprehensive socio-economic policies mainstreaming ageing.
The outcome of the conference are two complementary declarations; one adopted by the Ministers, reaffirming the commitment towards positive ageing policies and; a second which was adopted jointly by civil society and researchers.
Prior to the conference, in a letter addressed to national Governments and the European Commission, AGE called for a comprehensive policy framework on the human rights of older persons. To underpin our call and trigger an evidence-based discussion, we also submitted a policy paper including our members’ assessment of the current MIPAA national commitments and the following recommendations to:
- Put older persons as rights-holders at the centre of the next Regional Implementation Strategy;
- Engage in the process actively and positively towards an international convention on the rights of older persons;
- Adopt an EU level and national Age Equality Strategies;
- Invest into the quality, affordability and accessibility of long-term care and transform long-term care into a setting to live and strive;
- Adapt statistical frameworks to the reality of increasing longevity and diversity in older age; and
- Include older persons as users and co-creators of digital services, and for the offline availability of all essential services.
Joint Forum of Civil Society and Research shaped the discussions
Preceding the ministerial conference, the Joint Forum of Civil Society and Research discussed all the major topics set on the agenda for the ministerial conference itself and adopted a Joint Declaration to voice the concerns and demands of older persons’ organisations, carers and academia to the Ministers. The Joint Forum was co-chaired on behalf of all NGOs accredited to the UNECE in Geneva by our former Vice-President, Ms Heidrun Mollenkopf. The meeting discussed the advantages and limitations of the MIPAA as an international policy process.
The Joint Declaration (also available in French, Italian and Russian), presented by Heidrun Mollenkopf and Kai Leichsenring (see picture), raised the ambition towards a stronger rights-based approach in ageing policies, fighting ageism and discrimination, support for informal carers, the situation of older persons in emergency situations, such as the current war in Ukraine, mainstreaming gender. The Joint Declaration calls for further reflection on the topics of ageism and intersectional discrimination, the impact of emerging technologies on ageing and in particular minimising bias and promoting equity in digital technologies, participation of older persons, awareness for all sorts of sexual orientation among older persons, social inequality and the challenges arising from migration and older refugees.
The place of human rights central in all discussions in Rome
The Ministerial conference started off with UNECE presenting the progress in the past five years around the main policy areas of the 2017 Lisbon Ministerial Declaration, revolving around “Potential of older persons”, “Longer working lives” and “Ageing with dignity”. While UNECE, based on the reports from 40 member States, saw progress on employment, pensions, health and social care, and inclusion, progress is still needed on long-term care, housing, inequalities and poverty and discrimination and vulnerability.
A counterpoint was given by a keynote by Prof Alexander Sidorenko who reminded the long way the Ageing policies have come since the first World Assembly on Ageing in Vienna 1982 and the second in Madrid in 2002. Ageing policies suffer from insufficient coordination, marginal technical support in less developed countries and limited analytical capacity of the UN and member States to inform implementation. The policy documents used internationally are not legally binding and policy response to them remains weak. However, COVID-19 has been the first global pandemic in which ageing has been a main determinant, with older persons representing the main victims. The attack against Ukraine is the first war of invasion against a country with a strongly ageing population, exposing the specific needs of older persons in emergencies. Mr Sidorenko finished by calling for adequate recognition, funding and staffing for the follow-up of the international ageing policies, and for a strengthening of the human rights framework regarding older persons, to ensure success of the upcoming MIPAA cycle.
The ensuing high-level discussions focussed on promoting active and healthy ageing throughout life, ensuring access to long-term care and support for carers and families, as well as mainstreaming ageing to advance a society for all ages. During the high-level panel, the EU was only represented by a video message of Vice-President Dubravka Suica; Maciej Kucharczyk, AGE Secretary General and María Rodríguez Alcázar, member of the Board of the European Youth Forum also addressed ministers during the high-level segment, calling for protecting the rights of people of all ages – younger or older – and including them in decision making processes.
“To ensure that human rights are equally valid at all ages, an intergenerational perspective based on human rights should guide our reforms of social protection, education systems, employment policies, innovation and technologies, etc”, insisted AGE Secretary General.
“While longevity increases, ageism also increases”, further noted Maciej Kucharczyk. “Age discrimination should be considered as seriously as other grounds of discrimination”.
Ministerial Declaration renews the commitment to ageing policies post-2022
The final ministerial declaration renews member States’ commitment towards ageing policies after the cycle closed in 2022. Ministers underlined the many challenges that remain in social protection, long-term care or the labour market, participation of older persons or health promotion. They acknowledged the disproportional negative effects that the pandemic had on older persons and the crucial role of civil society, informal carers and volunteers in stemming the challenges that arose during the pandemic.
The new policy goals are formulated along three axes:
- Promoting active and healthy ageing: going beyond labour market inclusion, to also combat ageism, invest in health promotion, combat loneliness and social isolation, protect from violence and abuse, promote age-friendly digitalisation and other objectives
- Ensuring access to long-term care and support for families and carers: including working towards integrated and person-centred care ensuring independence and self-determination, preparing for the anticipated increase in care needs, improve the terms of employment of care workers, support informal and family carers, expand protection from neglect and abuse in care and other objectives
- Mainstream ageing to advance a society for all ages: including developing national frameworks for mainstreaming ageing, coordinating ageing-related policies, develop stakeholder engagement and enhancing age- and gender-sensitive research and data.
The Ministerial Declaration stops short of calling for the development of an international legal framework on the human rights of older persons but acknowledges the process in the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing.
What is legacy of the conference?
The UNECE region has now a renewed agenda for setting out positive ageing policies. We particularly welcome the commitment to mainstream ageing as a very positive step towards coordinated policies. Together with researchers and other civil society organisations, we hope that our join declaration, drafted in complementary way to the Ministerial Declaration will equally guide national actions on ageing. The voice of older people and our organisations brings evidence about the needs and expectations of older people at the grassroots levels.
Although we regret that the European Union, as a key actor on policies on ageing was not more actively involved during the conference, the impetus gained from the conference is an opportunity for a continuous dialogue with policy makers at all levels. AGE and our members to monitor governments’ actions in the development of positive and coordinated ageing policies, and to support the process of drafting an international convention on the rights of older persons.
- Conference website with agendas, video recording, background documents
- UNECE website on the event with presentations and official outcomes, recordings
- Re-watch the event
AGE Platform Europe member delegation at MIPAA Ministerial Conference