For aged population, one of the major challenges they face today is ageism, often called age discrimination, which is yet a socially normalised prejudice that older people are debilitated, unproductive and unworthy of employment. Designated by the United Nations (UN), the international day of older persons is being commemorated all over the world with a view to raising awareness towards ageing issues and, more specifically, recognising the positive contributions old people have to our society. The theme for the international day of older persons 2016, as adopted by the UN, is “Take a Stand against Ageism”.
The rapid growth of number of old persons aged sixty and above is creating a global demographic revolution. This process of population ageing will, predictably, continue at high levels around the century. This trend is, undoubtedly, an eloquent testimony of increase of longevity and decline of the fertility, infant and child mortality rate around the world, including Bangladesh. The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in its report ‘World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision’ estimates that 12 per cent of the global population, or 901 million people, are aged 60 or above. According to the report, 7 per cent of the total population of Bangladesh, or 11.24 million people, are elderly which is predicted to almost triple in terms of proportion of population to 43.49 million, which constitute of 21.5 per cent of the total population, by 2050. The report also predicts that by 2100, 62.84 million people, which stand at 37.1 per cent of the total population, are projected to enter into the age group. This estimation is more concerning for those who are now in younger age, for how we create an environment for old persons and how society perceives ageing issues will form our pleasantness in future.
However, in our society, being a racist or sexiest is no longer acceptable, but it is still okay to be an ageist and to have stereotypes regarding ageing issues. Moreover, old persons are likely to be seen as burden whose only contribution is to increase dependency ratio of the country. What is equally reprehensible is that we are not ready yet to acknowledge that a person, even after getting old, work for, contribute to, volunteer for, actively participate in, and provide care for their families, communities and societies. Young generation is, of course, the driving force of any nation but unless we value and utilise the experience and expertise older persons possess, the society will not move symmetrically, more precisely to the right direction.
Ageism - discrimination or unfair treatment based on age group - can, therefore, impact on the self esteem, confidence, work stamina and productivity of the persons which may subsequently cause them to be isolated from and devalued by the society. Ageism is more severe at organisational level. A person who contributed, suppose, 25 years long to an organisation is being sacked merely because of his age. Even, shockingly, no one questions this unethical and unacceptable malpractice. The organisations don’t feel an iota of social responsibility to the people and never consider that not only is the sudden job separation because of one’s age hurtful to the person, but it may also cause a sudden disaster to his family. Whether the old people are equally productive or not, one thing must be acknowledged: The person sacrificed his life for the organisation.
It goes without saying that among many psycho-social challenges the aged population regularly undergo abuse and neglect is more pervasive but wrapped under carpet. Comparing to the global estimate of 1 out of 10 elderly population facing abuse and neglect, almost all old persons in Bangladesh, whatsoever the socio-economic classes they belong to, experience, more or less, abuse and neglect by their families, relatives, neighbours, and communities, a study on elder abuse and neglect in Bangladesh finds. The incidences of elder abuse and neglect in Bangladesh mostly go unreported because of a number of cultural and institutional blockades. If we, the younger generation, fail to address the issue, we have to get ready to face up to the similar abuse and neglect in near future, even with its worst form.
Now, it’s time for everyone to question and raise voice against ageism and stand for supportive and inclusive society not only for old people’s sake but also for ourselves who are supposed to reach the age group and thus, build a society where everybody will age with security, respect and dignity. Our policies should also reflect ageing issues to create a supportive, inclusive and equity based environment for all, irrespective of any discrimination on the basis of any ground.
The writer is a professional at BRAC and Gerontological Researcher at the Institute of Social Welfare and Research, University of Dhaka. Email: [email protected]