Reading the current Global AgeWatch Index 2015 released by HelpAge International, one is left with more questions than answers on how as a country are we providing enabling environments for older men and women. The report clearly ranks Malawi among the six countries in Africa where older men and women live pathetic lives with few initiatives by government aimed at making lives of the senior citizens slightly better.
Estimates on ageing population indicate that there are currently around 901 million people aged 60 or over worldwide, representing 12.3 percent of the global population. By 2030, this will have increased to 1.4 billion or 16.5 percent. By 2050, it will have increased to 2.1 billion or 21.5 percent. People of 60 now outnumber children under five; by 2050, they will outnumber those under 15. These demographic changes are most rapid in the developing countries which by 2050, will be home to eight out of 10 of the world’s over 60s.
Time has come to begin looking into issues of ageing seriously. Fulfilling the promises we always make about older person is something that is non-negotiable. I am of the strong view that as a country, we need to improve our data on ageing to succeed in this task. Gaps on age data must be filled to know how we are doing to ensure all targets are met, and for the specifics of age and age-related targets in the proposed goals and their targets to be responded to. The energy of the data revolution, to make sure we, ‘leave no one behind’ will help Malawi towards the development of programmes aimed at improving lives for older men and women
Bishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying: ‘As we get older, our rights do not change. As we get older, we are not less human and should not become invisible. I want to tell the world that I count, that older men and women everywhere count’.
This should inform the transformation we wish to see in older men and women’s lives in Malawi. It is a kind of change that is not beyond our reach. If we work together, we can make greater strides towards creating the world we want for our older men and women, a world that is free from want, free from harm and one in which every older person has the necessary means to lead a dignified, healthy and secure life.
Member-States have just adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Malawi has already indicated its ‘100 percent’ commitment to the SDGs as His Excellency, the President stated in his remarks at the 70th UN General Assembly on the post 2015 development agenda. The Social Development Goals timeline, of 2030, have a wonderful declaration to ‘Leave no-one behind and meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities’.
This presents an opportunity for Malawi to reflect on the need for a complete paradigm shift from the welfare and sympathy approach on issues affecting older persons to a development and rights-based approach. Let this be an opportunity for us all to recommit ourselves to the task of making this country what every older person yearns for: ‘a just society’ rooted in the recognition of rights of people of all ages.
It never ceases to amaze me that older men and women make a bigger percentage of the voting population in this country, yet they are the most marginalised and vulnerable group. Every politician cannot afford to ignore the country’s senior citizens as their vote counts in determining who occupies plot number one. Yet little, if not nothing, is done towards the improvement of lives of older persons. Why, as a country, are we falling to put all senior citizens into a universal pension which would eventually ensure that they have income security? Older men and women have the right to a secure, stable, predictable and regular income despite whether they worked in the formal or informal sector.
All of us have much to contribute to the core aspiration of creating an enabling environment for people of all ages. Shared political commitment to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities, secure the environment for current and future generations and to deliver a safe and secure future for all people-of all ages gives us a road down which to travel, and older men and women must be made visible and included.