Reaching Out: Non-Traditional Actors

The General Assembly, in its Proclamation on Ageing (resolution 47/5, annex), designated 1999 as the International Year of Older Persons, and urged the international community to reach out to the development community, the media and the private sector. It also pointed out the need to reach younger generations.

The Proclamation encouraged donor and recipient countries to include older persons in their development programmes. Progress in this regard awaits the decision of country partners of the United Nations Development Programme to make older persons a target group in their development programmes.

Though older persons are not specifically excluded, they tend to be invisible on the international development agenda. HelpAge International has been working to reverse this situation, reaching out to Governments, United Nations agencies and bodies, and funds worldwide. Currently, for example, it is organizing a seminar to develop policies for older people in Thailand, Myanmar, Viet Nam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and China (Mekong Basin regions) in cooperation with ESCAP, with funding from the Government of Canada. Assisted by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Development Fund, it has established a revolving loan scheme for older persons in Sri Lanka.

In the Proclamation, the press and the media were encouraged to play a central role in the creation of awareness of population ageing and related issues. The media are uniquely placed to reach all levels of the community to raise awareness, generate debate and disseminate information on innovations and good practices. It could also help to counter ageist language and behaviour and expose the underlying reasons for "ageism", or age-prejudice, wherever it exists and the values that perpetuate it.

The Department of Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat is working closely with the United Nations programme on ageing to develop a multimedia information campaign for the Year. The campaign will mobilize the Department’s radio, television, print, public outreach and promotional activities as well as its worldwide network of information centres.

The Department is coordinating joint information activities with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes through the Joint United Nations Information Committee (JUNIC), having held preliminary discussions in July 1997. The Department has also begun discussions with some key non-governmental and corporate sponsors on jointly funded activities to promote the Year.

The activities and materials of the Department’s campaign will be targeted, in several languages, at key redisseminators such as the media, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, educational institutions and business organizations at the international and national levels. Information about these activities will be accessible electronically through the United nations home page on the Internet.

The Department is exploring the feasibility of organizing an exhibit on a society for all ages that could, inter alia, incorporate elements of a worldwide poster competition being launched jointly by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the American Association of Retired Persons.

Complementing these initiatives, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service will launch a radio "initiative on age" in October 1998. The initiative could reach as many as 140 million listeners worldwide in English and several of the other 44 languages of the Service. It will explore the implications of individual and population ageing, featuring the voices and views of older people and of younger generations whose attitudes towards older persons and their own old age will be explored.

Regarding the private sector, the Proclamation on Ageing urged the international community to support broad and practical partnerships within the United Nations programme on ageing, including partnerships between United Nations bodies and the private sector.

Recommendation No. 18 of the International Plan of Action on Ageing covers the steps Governments are advised to take for the protection of elderly consumers, including by ensuring that food, products and equipment conform to standards, that safe use is made of medications, household chemicals, etc., that medicines and prosthetics are available, and that intensive promotion aimed at exploiting the meagre resources of the elderly be restrained.

Staying within the guidelines of recommendation 18, the programme on ageing is engaging businesses in a dialogue on ageing — to gain their support for flexible work scheduling, gradual retirement, retraining of older workers and, in a more general way, their support for disseminating awareness of the impact of individual and population ageing. Private sector support has been identified for a meeting on caregiving and gender to be convened at the International Institute on Ageing in Malta in November 1997.

Finally, youth have also become an important target group. The Proclamation urged, in the context of national initiatives, that the entire population be engaged in preparing for the later stages of life and old and young generations cooperate in creating a balance between tradition and innovation in economic, social and cultural development.