It is not uncommon to hear that young people have been told they are either too young or too immature to handle some things. Phrases such as ‘youth of today’ and ‘this generation’ are often loaded to highlight an older generation’s vexation with the youth.
Usually, such statements create an environment where the youth feel out of their depth and where they are denied the opportunity to learn and develop – something that needs to change.
The Kenya Population and Housing Census 2019 indicates that a little over 11.6m of the country’s population is aged between 18 and 35 years. This age group faces challenges including unemployment, disparities in health and education as well as poverty and related outcomes. Therefore, they need all the guidance they can get to navigate these challenges. Thus, discriminating against them based on their age comes with different levels of consequences that impact their growth and development.
The United Nations 2021 Global Report on Ageism indicates that this discrimination, known as ageism, damages the health and well-being of any individual- young and old, and is a barrier to enacting effective policies and taking action on factors that promote it. The report defines ageism as a situation when age is used to categorise and divide people in ways that lead to harm, disadvantage, and injustice and erode solidarity across generations.
The Kenyan Constitution is clear on equality on discrimination, where it provides, in Chapter 4, that the state and other individuals shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground including age. It also provides for the State’s undertaking of legislative and other measures such as affirmative action and policies to redress discrimination to ensure the realisation of the rights.
With this year’s International Youth Day’s theme calling for Intergenerational solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages, it is time we bridge the gap between different age groups. Young people do not live in a vacuum; they learn and develop within society. Without that society’s support, they tend to feel the impact of ageism even more. Some of these consequences are long-lasting and affect the self-esteem and sense of belonging of the youth. It also leads to even more inequalities later in life.
It is, therefore, our responsibility as stakeholders- both state and non-state actors – to develop and enact policies and laws that engage the youth and consider their needs. We also need to create an environment conducive for young people to take up roles in leadership, politics, entrepreneurship, careers, and other sectors of life. They also need to take charge of their health, including reproductive health, which is a huge factor in their well-being. The onus is on us to ensure young people receive information and services at all levels of society to be able to make informed decisions.
We must also be at the forefront of creating safe and inclusive spaces where all generations can interact without discrimination and stigma. This starts with having conversations on ageing that are healthier and more comprehensive. The flip side is true where young people also contribute to ageism by discriminating against older people. Thus, the need to have a platform where everyone is treated as equal, so that cross-generational issues are addressed and lasting solutions are found. It will also be an open channel through which society learns the impact of ageism across all age groups, offering an understanding of the factors that drive this phenomenon and how to deal with them.
Since ageism intersects with other forms of bias such as sexism, we must implement multi-level and intersectional approaches to address these factors that prevent young people from reaching their full potential and contributing to societal development. We must strive to create awareness using channels best suited for each age group to highlight ageism and related factors.
All this cannot be achieved without research and data collection that will provide bases for policy formulation and implementation as well as resource mobilisation. Importantly, collective action from different stakeholders as soon as today will go a long way to ensure discrimination based on age is not happening in the first place.
We cannot empower young people without meaningfully engaging with them, addressing issues they face as well as providing them with the opportunity needed to enhance their wellbeing and development.
And as the UN secretary, General Antonio Guterres said: ‘Addressing ageism is critical for creating a more equal world in which the dignity and rights of every human being are respected and protected’.
This article was written by Ms Evelyn Samba, Kenya country director at DSW, and was first published by the Standard on August 12, 2022.