Discrimination & Problems of Ageism’ in context of Elderly Rights: An International Perspective
Although the right to equality is a distinct right, the problem of discrimination against the aged is also a much broader conceptual and social problem that deserves to be analyzed from multiple angles. Discrimination against the aged is typically associated with certain “ageist” trends in society that may portray the elderly in a negative light. ‘Ageism’ has been defined as the view that “people cease to be people, cease to be the same people or become people of a distinct and inferior kind, by virtue of having lived a specified numbers of year. Whilst it has been compared to sexism and racism, it is also a more subtle form of discrimination, involving as it does the passage through a transitional status in the cycle by potentially all human beings ‘one, in addition, to which most aspire’.
‘Ageism’ is a phenomenon arguably accentuated by industrialization, modernization and globalization which corrode the traditional respect for the elderly, even as they lead to social and family dislocation. Ageism may be accentuated by societies’ prevalent individualism and consumerism, and a tendency to discount the value that its old members can make to society given their perceived non-productive status. Finally, it is a set of attitudes that may have been made worse in the last decades by the extremely rapid development of technologies and the difficulty to some among the senior population to keep up with changes, e.g., the increasing digital divide between generations. One of the result may be a consequent devaluation of the elderlies’ knowhow which had traditionally provided them with a strong sense of social relevance.
Ageism may take the old particularly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of discrimination, the elderly may be denied access to health care, voting, work, education, etc., on the basis of their age. The labour market is one area where older persons face significant obstacles, and where mandatory retirement laws have put issues of inter-generational justice in sharp focus. Old age is also a condition that must be seen in relation to a number of other causes for discrimination with which it intersects, particularly gender’ older women outnumber older men’ or indigenous origin. For example, the CESCR considers that “State parties should pay particular attention to older women who, because they have spent all or part of their lives caring for their families without engaging in a remunerated activity entitling them to old-age pension, and who are also not entitled to a widow’s pension, are often in critical situations.
The main international human rights instruments typically do not mention age per se as a ground of discrimination. However, as the ECSCR put it rather than being seen as an intentional exclusion, this omission is probably best explained by the fact that, when these instruments were adopted, the problem of demographic ageing was not as evident or as pressing as it is now. This is confirmed by the fact that the main human rights instruments are in reality quite open-ended about discrimination, and mention the possibility of discrimination on the ground of “other status”. Moreover, the Conventions on the Rights of the Persons with Disability, one of that may be of relevance to many in within the elderly population, expresses concern in its Preamble about the fate of elderly persons with disabilities and urges Sates to adopt measures to combat prejudices, including those based one age “Article 8”. Article 13 of the European Communities Treaty had also expressly prohibited discrimination in relation to age, as does Article 21 of the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Moreover, specific legislation has increasingly been adopted domestically, for example in the US, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age in the context of employment.