"Promoting the rights of older persons"
Population ageing is one of the most important global demographic mega trends that can no longer be ignored. It is happening in all regions of the world and progressing fastest in developing countries, including the ones that have a large population of young people.
Our world is rapidly ageing. By 2050, our planet will be home to twice as many people aged 60 or more than there are today. At the same time, the population aged 80 or more will triple in size, according to UN Division for Economic and Social Affairs’ 2017 Revision of the World Population Prospects.
Even sub-Saharan Africa, a region better known for its youthful populations, is experiencing population ageing, with an expected tripling of its population 60 years and over from 64 million older women and men today to 220 million by 2050.
These trends will have a profound impact on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development globally and even more so in sub-Saharan Africa.
While the international community has acknowledged these global demographic shifts, little has been done to recognize that older women and men are as diverse as any other age groups. Today’s often common practice of either ignoring older persons altogether in development discussions or lumping together everyone over the age of 60 as if age and gender gaps suddenly disappeared on our 60th birthdays needs to change.
According to the 2008 Housing and Population Census, 4.9% of Malawi’s population are older persons, translating to the total population of older men and women being slightly above 796,000 and represents a sector of the population that whilst often ignored, plays a crucial role in society both in supporting children, sharing learning and experience, providing a sense of stability as well as providing practical action in times of disaster.
The population of Malawi is predominantly rural, with approximately 80% of the population residing in rural areas and engaged in subsistence agriculture. Malawi was ranked 95 out of 96 countries by the Global AgeWatch Index (2014) and is considered one of the countries with the least services and support for older people. With increasing numbers of orphans due to HIV/AIDS related deaths, older people are increasingly left with the responsibility of childcare without any formal support. Very few have pensions (second lowest coverage in the region at 4.1%) and older women are often particularly poor because of cultural and social practices found in both patrilineal and matrilineal societies limiting women’s access to resources including land and property.
Therefore, addressing what happens to Malawians as they grow older is critical to successfully addressing the wider development challenges facing the anation. Older people face specific and acute vulnerabilities that need to be taken into account in designing any resilient/livelihood interventions, and are particularly relevant to the agenda of ensuring no one is left behind. Many older men and women in Malawi continue to live and play an active role as part of wider families: as bread winners, and carers.