Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America have been working very hard on the question of whether laws are needed to recognize and promote the human rights of older persons. This commitment was demonstrated during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago, by Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos from Paraguay, as one of the speakers on the panel focused on "Dignity, Equality and Anti-Ageism Rights of Older Persons."
Professor Caceres Mongelos is the current president of the Central Association of Retired Public Servants and Teachers in Paraguay, and has experience as a master teacher, educational administrator, and vocational counselor. She has also taught classes at the university level on leadership. When I asked whether her organization is comparable to AARP in the U.S., which was started by a retired teacher, she laughed and said "maybe some day." I think she would not mind me saying that she's tiny but powerful -- and certainly she is an articulate spokesperson for the issues her country, with a total popularion of 6.8 million, is facing.
Professor Caceras Mongelos has served as a spokesperson for her civil society organization during regional meetings for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 and 2013 that led to endorsment of a formal international convention on the rights of older persons.
The participation of Paraguay in international discussions of aging is forward-thinking, as it is actually a comparatively young country in terms of its overall population. Persons aged 60 and over comprise approximately 8% of the population. Recent news reports indicate that more than 66% of its population is less than 30 years old. At the same time, with their citizens already experiencing relatively long-life spans, especially on a comparative basis (average life span is now 75 according to some reports), the country will begin to see the impact of aging as a nation starting in 2038.
The organization headed by Caceres Mongelos has adopted advocacy goals for its members, including health related goals, such as securing free health care (including mobile clinics) for retirees for critical matters such as vision and dental care, and for treatment of cancer and chronic diabetes, all issues recognized as important for the self-esteem of older persons. Her Central Association has a project called "Hogares de Jubliados" or "Homes for the Elderly," with a goal of providing space for as many as 200 persons deemed vulnerable and unprotected. Her organization seeks to "monitor and insure safekeeping of social security funds under control of the treasury" during the current fiscal crisis. A better system of public transportation is another key goal.
She described her Central Association's recent Yellow Ribbon Campaign to re-enforce recognition of the rights of civil services and retirees to be free from pay discrimination under the Constitution of Paraguay. She described the yellow ribbons as symbols for the "struggle to claim solidarity, love, better living and the light of hope for a bearable and dignified old age." Despite the small proportion of Paraguayans currently deemed older -- in their "third age" -- she said "fragility" often characterizes their life conditions, with more than a quarter of the population of older adults illiterate and with only 19% currently receiving any form of income from pension or retirement benefits. In addition, her association stresses that real attention must be paid to the needs of older persons in indigenous communities and Afro-descendants.
In closing, Professor Caceres Mongelos called for an end to procrastination on international recognition of the rights of older persons. She said, "Declaring and implementing the regulations calling for dignity, equality and non-discrimination ... for older persons needs to be achieved as quickly as possible [toward] the goal of improving quality of life and respecting the human rights of older persons."