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Perspectives on ageing worldwide

Updated: Oct 8


'Ageing and Ageism in the Commonwealth – The Way Forward Post Covid', 30 September 2020.

Julia Burton Jones, the Anna Chaplaincy Church Lead writes:



On the eve of both the International Day of Older Persons and Black History Month, it seemed fitting to attend this webinar, hosted by CommonAge (the Commonwealth Association for Ageing and home of the Commonwealth Elders Forum). The event was attended by almost 250 people from across the world, united in the desire to value and improve life for older people.


We were welcomed by Lord Ahmed, UK Minister for the Commonwealth, and Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The panel included: Shem Ochola, who joined us from Kenya as deputy director general of the Commonwealth Foundation; Kiran Karnik, chairman of HelpAge India; Isabella Aboderin, regional chair for Africa of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics; Amal Rafeh, ageing lead from the division for inclusive social development at the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Amal Rafeh said the Commonwealth currently has 231 million older people, set to rise to 559 million by 2050. She cited research showing how much older people contribute to the economies of the world and advocated a life course approach in government policy. Kiran Karnik told us about the work of HelpAge with India’s 120 million older people. Digital literacy skills, he said, were vital in sustaining jobs and livelihoods for older people; during Covid-19, with the exodus of younger people in informal work returning from the cities to rural areas, older people have been displaced in the labour market. When we have a vaccine, who will be prioritised in receiving it – older people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, or other sections of the population?


Isabella Aboderin told us that Africa is the youngest world region and older people are not a priority. African values of respect for elders and family care have prevented development of necessary systems of support; current systems are not fit for purpose and older people do not always receive the support they need. She also stressed the importance of intergenerational links and a life course approach. Covid-19 has undermined economic gains in Africa, meaning older people will again be deprioritised.


Shem Ochola said the pandemic has shown disproportionate impact on marginalised groups. The Commonwealth Foundation works with civil society to encourage advocates to speak for those who are marginalised. The push for older people’s rights must be sustained.


A key message from the event is that we need to see older people as our future selves. We should not lose the values of Commonwealth countries which honour, revere and care for older people but we must recognise family support is changing and elder abuse sadly exists. Developing structures of support need not challenge the role of the family; Commonwealth countries equate systems of care with old age homes, but there is a range of community-based support that can be put in place to assist families.


In Rochester Diocese we are focusing on the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic elders (BAME) in our churches and communities. In parishes with large minority ethnic communities we held events in 2019 and 2020 celebrating ageing in our different cultures.


Anna Chaplain Funmi Makanju

Anna Chaplain Funmi Makanju and Anna Chaplaincy mentor Bose Johnson are leading a conversation in the diocese about how our churches can support and include members from our BAME communities as they get older. We would love to hear from others who share our interest and concern. Email me at julia.burton-jones@brf.org.uk


The webinar was recorded and will be made available soon on the website of CommonAge. Here is more information on the speakers.



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