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First steps towards a Commonwealth for people of all ages

In June our colleague Ken Bluestone attended the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) at what turned out to be a landmark meeting for the inclusion of older people. Below, he writes about the initial steps Commonwealth countries have taken toward greater equality for older men and women. 

Our colleague Ken pictured at the event. Credit: Rwanda CHOGM Photography Team

The Commonwealth took a small but significant step forward in recognising the needs and rights of older people at its Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda the week of 20th June. The first formal discussion of issues affecting older women and men in a CHOGM took place during the Commonwealth Women’s Forum. The “Intergenerational Celebration” session in the Women’s Forum left no doubt that Commonwealth member countries and institutions have to recognise older women and men as equal partners in achieving the mission of the Commonwealth.

As the Commonwealth Secretariat Deputy Secretary-General, Dr Arjoon Suddhoo, said in his closing remarks:

“The need for recognising and celebrating the contributions and diversity of women and girls of all ages, including older women, was powerfully articulated.”

The outcomes of the Commonwealth Women’s Forum were equally explicit:

“This session provided a clear recognition that older women must be recognised as equal members of society, requiring equal access to appropriate healthcare including palliative care, economic opportunities, social protection and income support, and the means for participating fully in community life throughout their lives.”

And the following recommendations were made to all Commonwealth member countries and stakeholders:

  • “Acknowledge the importance of Commonwealth member countries taking a life course approach that explicitly includes older women and men, and increase investment in intergenerational activities that value older and younger women equally, thus enabling them to have an active role to play in achieving the goals and objectives of the Commonwealth
  • Encourage recognition that older women are equal members of society and provide resources to ensure that they have equal access to appropriate healthcare, economic opportunities, social protection and income support, and the means for participating fully in community life.
  • Acknowledge that gender-based violence intersects with other forms of discrimination, including against women with disabilities, older women, and LGBTQ women.
  • Ensure that all gender equality accountability mechanisms take an intersectional approach in their processes so that the most vulnerable women including inter alia, LBTI women, older women, women living with disability are not left behind.”

While this has been a landmark CHOGM for the inclusion of older people, we are far from a Commonwealth for people of all ages. There has never been any mention of older people or ageing issues in the discussions between Heads of State, or in the formal Communiques that get issued at each CHOGM. Until this happens, it is unlikely that Commonwealth institutions will shift their focus to actively look at integrating the needs and rights of older people into their work.

Ken Bluestone | Head of Policy and Influencing

You can learn more about the Commonwealth Women's Forum and the outcomes on their website:  

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Last updated: Aug 08 2022

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