University of Southampton research is investigating the well-being and human rights of older people in Pakistan, addressing issues such as age discrimination, access to pensions and the provision of healthcare.
Lead researcher Professor Asghar Zaidi comments: "With the world marking the United Nations' International Day of Older Persons (1 October), we are reminded that people should not lose their human rights as they grow older. It should not be acceptable to deny people the opportunity to work or receive medical services they need, purely because of their age. They should be allowed the ability to remain independent and in control of their own lives."
In 2013, Professor Zaidi developed the Global AgeWatch Index with the global network HelpAge International to make comparisons of quality of life in older age for people around the world and identify policies that improve the lives of older people in different contexts. Another aim is to identify what additional data, evidence and research are necessary for effective policymaking.
Pakistan is the sixth most populous country and in 2015 it had an older population of approximately 12.5m. This places Pakistan in a group of only 15 countries worldwide that have more than 10m older people. By 2050, the number will have risen to a staggering 40m. Researchers believe there is an urgent need for understanding the state of the human rights of older people in the country and developing policies to protect and promote these rights.
In response, the British Council in Pakistan is addressing this through the study Moving from the Margins: Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Older Persons in Pakistan in collaboration with HelpAge International Pakistan and Professor Zaidi – the project's advisor. This is a first of its kind project generating unique knowledge on how aware older people are of their social and economic rights and what actions they are willing to take to demand them. The challenges facing Pakistan are echoed around the globe and it's hoped the study will provide valuable lessons for countries with similar issues.
Professor Zaidi comments: "In the future, a continued rise in life expectancy will lead to an increasing number of old and very old people in Pakistan. There is no evidence that the years added to our lives will be spent in good health. Therefore, families, especially poor families, will not be able to sustain this for so many additional years, so research is required on how lives of older men and women will continue to be affected by lack of public services in Pakistan.
"This new research project will aim to provide evidence of which human rights are neglected in Pakistan for the older population and what policies and programmes are required, at the national and sub-national levels, to promote and protect the rights of older citizens in the country."
Through the research, the British Council will generate the knowledge to help identify problems faced by the elderly in Pakistan. A mixed method of research is being used for the project, including secondary data analysis of a newly conducted quantitative survey on older people, as well as qualitative interviewing, and consultations with key stakeholders. The project will make recommendations towards developing stronger, formal institutional arrangements to protect and promote the rights of Pakistan's older people.
Professor Zaidi adds: "The pledges made by the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, 'no one will be left behind' and 'to reach the furthest behind first', imply that every individual in the world should benefit from the rights and opportunities on offer from the development process and that the most vulnerable subgroups (such as the elderly) will get the highest priority in the human development agenda."
This research in Pakistan is undertaken alongside a wider research project at the University of Southampton's Centre for Research on Ageing, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), during 2015-2016, undertaking analysis of quality of life of older persons in Bangladesh, China, India and Pakistan. Findings from these projects will be published in 2017.
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