Aging and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Here at WHO in the UN City in Copenhagen, we will be celebrating the launching of the goals on Monday, September 28th. We will be having a little ceremony with the presentation of the Sustainable Development Goals, a symbolic soccer match in the building lobby, a reception, and raise the new Global Goals flag.

When I first walked into the building and saw the large display of the goals (see my picture below), I remember pausing to read them and not seeing any direct action towards promoting healthy aging or dementia and feeling a bit frustrated. But, I also hadn’t read the Goals yet so didn’t want to be so quick to judge.

This is particularly interesting for me, because when I was in intern 2 years ago with WHO Healthy Ageing, we worked on the Millennium Development Goals Post-2015, and I was a bit disappointed at how few of the Europe Region Member States (I’m talking single digits) were requesting support for and taking specific action on healthy aging. I hope that this has changed and will continue to be an important goal for countries.

This is why I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the article below shared by HelpAge International talking about the positive effects of the Goals on aging! And I have signed up for the celebration on Monday, which will be held in Danish. I figured it would be in English, but nope.

They are already busy preparing for the celebration at the UN City, and a few of us consultants took the opportunity to get a picture with the Goals after lunch on Wednesday 🙂

UN Sustainable Development Goals

And today, we had the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Denmark, Kristian Jensen, give a short speech on the Sustainable Development Goals and the upcoming launch of the Goals which aim to change the world. This event was in English. And I got cool pictures.


WP_20150924_16_04_15_Pro WP_20150924_16_04_25_Pro

Check out the United Nations Population Fund webpage (click on the title, below) for a summarized description of each of the 17 goals, which are designed to “eliminate poverty, discrimination, abuse and preventable deaths, address environmental destruction, and usher in an era of development for all people, everywhere.”

UNFPA & the Sustainable Development Goals 

I checked them out. And I am a bit disappointed in the summary of Goal 3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, which is specifically talked about in the HelpAge International article, below, as possibly a big breakthrough in breaking down stigma around aging in health (or ageism in health). It was the same when I was an intern 2 years ago in Healthy Ageing, which is grouped in the same division as childhood and maternal health. There, I witnessed more discussions of preconception health and reproductive health than of healthy aging. This summary also speaks of sexual and reproductive health, sexuality education, and maternal services. There is no reference to aging or older adults, other than what is implied by the Goal’s title. 😦

By the same reasoning, Goal 4:  Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning, could also be seen as targeted towards including aging and older adults. Yet, again, the focus is on children, adolescent girls, women, sexuality education, and efforts to keep women and girls in school. No mention of lifelong learning in people who have actually lived a long life.

In fact, I searched the UNFPA webpage’s summary of the Goals to see where age is mentioned.

You know what I found?

Goal 1:  End poverty in all its forms everywhere, talks about “improve access to sexual and reproductive health care in developing countries…eliminating child marriage…young people’s access to jobs and education…” No mention of aging or older adults.

Goal 2:  End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, talks about hunger…in pregnancy, children, needed training for midwives and on the nutritional needs of girls and pregnant women.

Goals 3 and 4 I covered first, above. Goal 5:  Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls only mentions elimination of violence against women and girls, gender-based discrimination, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). No surprise, it also talks about sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Again, no mention of older women.

Goal 6:  Ensure access to water and sanitation for all wouldn’t seem like it would focus on girls and women, but somehow it still does, with this gem:

UNFPA distributes ‘dignity kits’ in disaster- and conflict-affected communities. These kits contain menstrual pads, soap, underwear, and other essential supplies to help women and girls maintain their health, hygiene and sense of dignity, even under grave circumstances.

I mean, mentioning disasters/emergencies/crises is a great opportunity to address aging adults, as they disproportionately comprise the majority of deaths and have a more difficult time getting resources… not to mention are known to experience agism in the distribution of relief aid….but, no. I mean, although I feel it would have given a very narrow and slightly stigmatizing view to mention, but it would not have been a far leap to include incontinence pads or adult diapers when addressing dignity…..

For more information on aging adults in emergencies, please see my posts on:

Goals 7 and 9 aren’t summarized on the website. Goal 8:  Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all is yet another exceptional opportunity to address agism and explicitly stating that aging adults are included in the “decent work for all” goal. But it doesn’t.

Goal 10:  Reduce inequality within and among countries mentions vulnerable women and girls, disabilities, indigenous communities, gender equality, and vulnerable migrants. No elderly.

Goal 11:  Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable doesn’t mention any specific age group, but does include

UNFPA works with partners to promote inclusive urbanization, including by improving access to health care and opportunities in urban slums. UNFPA also advocates for the welfare and sustainability of urbanizing communities, and helps gather data about their needs.

And I hope that inclusive urbanization also includes age-friendly cities….. For more information on Age-Friendly and Dementia-Friendly cities, please see my posts on:

Goal 12 isn’t summarized, and Goal 13:  Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts addresses how UNFPA, with others, developed the Demographic Exploration for Climate Adaptation (DECA) to help policymakers see where vulnerable populations are and what hazards they might face. When researching disasters and emergencies, aging and older adults are categorized as a marginal group and a vulnerable population.

Now I’m getting interested to read the 17 goals in detail to see where aging is specifically addressed. I feel another post coming on….

Goal 16:  Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies discusses violence, and does mention girls and women, but could (should) also include elder abuse, violence against older adults, the normalization of aging, and the inclusion of older adults (and I would also hope for people with dementia) in society.

Goal 17:  Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development talks about the need for high-quality, reliable, and timely information to build up partnerships.

My next blogging challenge is to read the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 169 associated targets and summarize how these will affect aging (you can read that post here). And I will be sure to keep my ears open for mention and discussion on Monday, of how the new goals will impact the lives of aging and older adults.

The following text comes from HelpAge International’s website, and you can access the full article by clicking on the title, below. This was the article the prompted me to look into how aging is addressed in the new Goals, and I hope we will not be disappointed.

The next few days could change the lives of billions | HelpAge International

The next few days could quite literally change the lives of billions of people and shape the future of our planet.

At the end of this week, world leaders will gather in New York for the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015. At the end of the meeting, heads of state and their governments are expected to adopt and commit to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets that make up the global community’s plan to end extreme poverty, tackle inequality and reduce the impact of climate change by 2030. They will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set at the turn of the century.

The goals and targets have been developed with an unprecedented level of civil society consultation and involvement. Critically, unlike the MDGs, these new goals are designed to be applicable for all people in all countries, rich and poor, whatever their geography or state of development. This unites all older people globally and many organisations around a single agenda.

Are older people included?

This is a particularly significant and positive moment for the world’s current and future older population.

Not only does the sustainable development agenda pledge to “leave no one behind”, but older age or older people are included directly or by implication in 15 of the goals and their targets with key phrases including “all ages”, “older persons” and “lifelong”.

The SDGs seem finally to have brought about an appreciation that all women and men share the same human rights as they age.

Goal 3 in particular, which commits to ensuring healthy lives and wellbeing for all at all ages, could be a huge breakthrough. It signals a potential beginning of the end to age discrimination within health systems.

Read the rest of this article at HelpAge International


2 thoughts on “Aging and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  1. Pingback: Suggestions to Include Aging in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

  2. Pingback: Lack of focus on Aging in the UN Sustainable Development Goals | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

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