Taking Action on Social Inclusion of Older People is a project started in February 2016 in the Western Balkans – a regional effort to put older people’s fate back in their hands, support them in being better included in their communities and discuss the topics of importance with decision makers and community leaders. Five countries in the project are joining together on a job uniting the civil sector and older people in order to tackle the challenges of demographic ageing head on. It is a project created to harness the power of the civil sector in five western Balkans countries in response to demographic ageing.
The ageing of population is a prominent phenomenon across most of Europe: 23.2% of the European population was over the age of 60 in 2014 with estimated share of older people by 2050 climbing to 33.6%. The effects of population ageing are however different from country to country in terms of how the society accommodates to changing demographic structure. Global AgeWatch Index, a tool developed by HelpAge International to gauge and compare the quality of life of older people across the world and covering 96 countries as of 2015, ranks Albania as 53rd, Serbia as 66th and Montenegro as 68th (with data for Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as yet being incomplete) which clearly indicates that Balkans’ societies are underprepared to face demographic ageing.
The three year project coordinated by the Red Cross of Serbia is supported by European Union through its IPA fund, the Austrian Red Cross as well as the Austrian Development Agency. The aim is to strengthen the networks of civil society organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia and to improve their ties to the communities and facilitate social inclusion of older people in local communities and the society at large across the region.
The older people are largely excluded from decision making processes at all levels and they have an image problem too. Research across the region has shown that a prevalent perception of older people is that they are passive consumers of services offered by the society, politically and socially inert and unfit to take part in decision making. Therefore, the project will encourage and support older people to take part in decision making processes related to ageing and older age at local and national levels through offering knowledge and transfer of good practices. It will also strive to change the public perception of older people through engaging the public via targeted advocacy campaigns and working with the media on better understanding of the demographic realities and individual strengths, capacities and contributions of older people across a range of ages, geographic areas and social classes. The networks of civil society organisations in the five countries will strengthen their capacities for evidence based policy dialogue in order to better support older people in their efforts.
The countries selected for the project share a lot of institutional history and practices in relation to social and health protection of older people and the partner organisations in each country have years of experience in implementing projects and programmes focused on older persons and improving the quality of life in the older age. Of course, all the countries in the project are also on some of the stages of EU Accession process. This creates opportunities for sharing relevant experience across the region and ensuring that civil sector plays a significant role in assisting the decision makers in all of the countries undergoing transition and preparing for EU membership.
The project was launched in February 2016 and will run for 36 months. The activities will include:
- capacity building for civil society networks and older people themselves in the five countries,
- working with the media,
- educating media professionals in order to reduce discrimination and improve the perception of ageing and older people,
- Raising public awareness on healthy ageing, lifelong learning and volunteering through campaigns that will be simultaneously organised in all the project countries.
These campaigns will work on improving the perception of older people as actively contributing to development of their communities and using their knowledge and experience to enhance social cohesion at national and local level. In turn, creating and spreading positive image of older people will help decrease their isolation and motivate them to be more active and take their rightful position in the society.
In addition to these activities, support will be provided for volunteer activities of older people in urban and rural environments.
Public advocacy for improved quality of life of older people will be another important part of the project and this is why research studies in all five countries are planned. The data collected and processed through these exercises will also serve to create recommendations for decision makers in creating inclusive policies.