Message read by Andrew Kirkwood, United Nation Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ai, At the Ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Older Persons

Nay Pyi Taw, 1 October 2019

Excellency, Dr. Win Myat Aye, Union Minister of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement,

Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps, International Organizations and the United Nations,

Mingalarbar.

We celebrate today, what Myanmar traditionally celebrates every year in its traditions and festivals. At Thadingyut, in the Buddhist tradition, respect is paid to the elderly, parents and teachers.  At Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year, the elderly are given hair washes and their fingernails and toenails are trimmed by younger people, a symbolic act of caring for the elderly.

The International Day of Older Persons highlights the elderly among us. This admirable tradition reinforces the attitude that the people of Myanmar have towards the elderly.  People recognize and respect the wisdom of the elderly. They recognize their place in society.

The theme for this year is, “The Journey to Age Equality”.  As Myanmar travels on its roads of democratization, peace and development, these journeys must include everyone. This is a core principle of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, which says we must leave no one behind. In other words, development will only be achievable if it is inclusive of all ages.

In spite of the veneration of the elderly in Myanmar, the elderly are sometimes neglected or marginalized because of their position of vulnerability. For example, in conflict areas, it is the elderly and children who bear the brunt of the hostilities. Often, disparities in old age reflect an accumulated disadvantage from factors such as: gender, education, health and income.

The number of older people in Myanmar will almost triple in the next 30 years. By 2050 the number of people aged 60 and over is projected to grow from 4.5 million to 13 million – or 20 per cent of the population.[i] This will present an enormous challenge to Myanmar as it copes with an ageing society.  Myanmar’s policies and programmes must take this into account.

Myanmar is not unique in this regard. Worldwide, between 2015 and 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to increase from 900 million to 1.4 billion. So, we can learn from one another.

We have learned that older persons should be empowered in all dimensions of development. Active participation in social, economic and political life, is one way to ensure that older persons in Myanmar benefit from democratization and economic growth.

We also know that older persons contribute enormously to society. The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census shows that 22 per cent of people aged 65 and above still work.

The theme of 2019, “The Journey to Age Equality” aims to:

  • Draw attention to the existence of old age inequalities and how this often results from a cumulation of disadvantages throughout life.
  • Bring awareness to the urgency of coping with existing — and preventing future — old age inequalities through: life-long learning, proactive and adaptive labour policies, social protection and universal health coverage.
  • Reflect on good practice and lessons that can change negative stereotypes involving “old age.”

In two weeks, we approach Thadingyut, when forgiveness is sought from the elderly and blessings are bestowed, the International Day of Older Persons is a timely reminder of how Myanmar culture is advantageous in helping us achieve Goal 10 of the SDGs, to reduce inequalities that older persons face in society.

Thank you, Kyay zuu tin bar deh.

 

[i]https://myanmar.unfpa.org/en/news/myanmar-must-prepare-face-challenges-ageing-population

https://www.un.org/en/events/olderpersonsday/