Strengthening the voice and agency of older persons in decisions that affect them is essential to fulfil the 2030 Agenda’s pledge of leaving no-one behind. It is a key step in ensuring that ageing-related issues are accounted for in the design and implementation of policies across various sectors and levels. To support this, UNECE has issued a new guidance note on the meaningful participation of older persons and civil society across the policymaking cycle.
The guidance note makes the case for the participation of older persons and civil society in decision-making and advocates for long-standing engagement that genuinely shapes policies. It suggests some key steps to bring governments and civil society together and recommends tools to make the engagement of civil society actors and older persons meaningful. Some of the most important are: including older persons and civil society throughout the design, implementation and evaluation of policies; creating institutional bodies that involve older persons and civil society along with focal points from line ministries and various levels of government; facilitating the creation of older people’s groups and dedicated spaces for marginalized older persons; establishing channels between older persons, civil society, other relevant stakeholders and decision-makers; as well as building the skills of older persons to engage in policy processes.
In addition, the guidance note showcases a variety of good practice examples from the UNECE region. It highlights cases of regular and systematic stakeholder engagement to inform ageing-related policy, as opposed to one-off consultations. Specific examples include annual stakeholder fora on policies impacting older persons in Ireland, which are attended by a variety of actors from government, local authorities, civil society, and older persons themselves. Key issue areas identified by the fora are picked up for action by the Department of Health, showcasing the direct impact of debates during the fora for policy steps and activities.
In Italy, a national stakeholder network consisting of representatives of ministries, regions and civil society meets periodically to discuss and decide on work on active ageing. Canada offers an example of the tailored engagement of vulnerable sub-populations of older persons, namely: recent immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ2 persons, and indigenous populations. Specific tools and guidelines have been developed to encourage an effective exchange of ideas with these groups and respond to their needs.
Finally, the guidance note casts a spotlight on efforts to train older persons on their rights in Serbia, through self-help groups at the local level. Engaging in these groups increases the awareness of older persons of their entitlements and raises their interest in engaging in policy processes.
Ageing is of particular pertinence in the UNECE region, where older persons accounted for almost 17 per cent of the total population in 2020, the highest share of all global regions. By 2050, one in every four people in the region could be aged 65 years and above, according to UN projections. UNECE member States have made important steps towards the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and its Regional Implementation Strategy, both adopted in 2002 with the aim of promoting a society for all ages. Countries are currently reviewing national progress made in implementing MIPAA ahead of the UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing that will take place in Rome in June 2022. The participation of civil society and older persons in the review and appraisal exercise has been strongly recommended.
To help advance this effort and to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, UNECE, the German National Association of Senior Citizens’ Organizations (BAGSO), AGE Platform Europe, the NGO Committee on Ageing Geneva, and the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth organised earlier this year an interactive online workshop drawing the attention of policymakers and civil society to the importance of meaningful participation. Part of a broader series of webinars held in the context of the ongoing national MIPAA reviews and consultations, the event provided an opportunity for representatives of governments, civil society organisations and academia to share successful strategies for participation, and to discuss barriers which have been addressed in the guidance note.
The note, which indicates steps in designing a stakeholder engagement and participation process, is part of a broader toolkit on mainstreaming ageing that UNECE is developing to complement the Guidelines for Mainstreaming Ageing issued earlier this year by the UNECE Standing Working Group on Ageing.