Prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s age is an increasing problem that affects young and old alike. This ageism devalues and limits the contribution of both younger and older populations to our collective development. The International Youth Day theme for 2022 is a bold call to action toward Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages so that no one is left behind.
There is a need to leverage the full potential of all generations toward attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When age is used to categorise and divide people in ways that lead to harm, disadvantage, and cause injustice, it hampers sustainable, inclusive and equitable development. It is estimated that about 6.3 million cases of depression globally are attributable to ageism, and this has negative effects on people’s well-being and societies at large.
Ageism against younger people manifests across employment, health, housing and politics, where younger people’s voices are often denied or dismissed. In Ghana, young people are more likely to be unemployed. Up to 13.4% of Ghanaians over the age of 15 are unemployed.
This figure is much higher for young adults aged between 15-24 years – wherein 32.8% or nearly 1 in 3 are unemployed. Young people are also poorly represented in political institutions, public service and decision-making. Older adults are also disadvantaged in workplaces and access to healthcare, specialised training and education. A recent UN global report on ageism revealed that, globally, one in two people is ageist against older people.
Our future depends on breaking the barriers that contribute to ageism. Fostering inclusion requires an integrated approach that creates an enabling environment, innovative tools, mechanisms and platforms that allow youth and people of all ages to contribute meaningfully to advancement of the SDGs. We need three actions to combat ageism and its effects on people’s well-being and our prosperity.
Implement supportive policies and laws to end discrimination
First, we need effective implementation of existing and new legal instruments that protect against ageism in all spheres of life. Capable institutions and partnerships with traditional and religious authorities at local, regional and continental level can help to overcome discriminatory social norms that promote ageism and exclusion.
Develop educational interventions for empowerment
Second, actions to end ageism will require educational interventions that inform and build the capacity to overcome this challenge. This calls for engagement of diverse actors across the spectrum of education, from primary school to tertiary institutions. Working with all ages in both formal and non-formal educational contexts can help provide the tools to reduce the exposure and impact of ageism.
When awareness is created among different actors, targetting students at different levels, we can help enhance empathy, dispel misconceptions about different age groups and reduce prejudice and discrimination.
Promote engagement across generations for collective action
Third, we need to foster interaction between people of different generations. The UN Youth Strategy recognises that young people’s empowerment, development and engagement is an end in itself, as well as a means to build a better world.
This is why the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with partners, continues to create platforms like the YouthConnektAfrica to connect young people with other generations, for them to tap into opportunities to unleash their innovative potential.
In Ghana, through its youth empowerment interventions, UNDP has invested in many young entrepreneurs who are building on traditional knowledge from older family members – like Keitu Enoch and Rose Oduro, who are leading the charge toward economic freedom.
We all have a role to play in challenging and eliminating ageism, and everyone must join the movement to reduce ageism. By coming together as a broad coalition, we can improve collaboration and communication between different stakeholders engaged in combating ageism.
We must all acknowledge that it is important not to despise and undermine anybody, whether young or old. We must collaborate to foster successful and equitable intergenerational relations and partnerships to ensure “no one is left behind”.
The writer is UNDP Resident Representative in Ghana on International Youth Day