Regional Op Ed - Tackling Ageism in our communities

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Ageism may not be a word you are familiar with, but it does impact people of all ages within our communities, particularly older people and young people.

It is similar to other ‘ism’s’ and is a prejudice expressed towards a person because of their age. For older people, it impacts confidence, quality of life, job prospects, health and control over life decisions. In its extreme, it is a factor in elder abuse.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is supporting a campaign to reduce ageism in our community. We are partnering with EveryAGE Counts for this campaign. They have been tackling ageism nationally by shifting social norms and positively influencing the way people think about ageing and older people.

Our work seeks to build on this social movement and involve all Victorian councils.

What we know is that, while most people would know that overlooking a prospective employee purely due to their age is ageist, other forms of ageism are not as obvious.

Examples that can distort our attitudes to older people include a fixation on ‘anti-ageing’ products or the preponderance of birthday cards that portray getting older in a negative light.

We have already seen some great examples about how some of our councils are tackling ageism in their communities across the sector.

Macedon Ranges Shire Council has been thinking creatively about how to raise community awareness of ageism and is using its Over 55’s Facebook page to generate discussion in the community. This council connects with hundreds of people through the topical posts on the page which aim to defy stereotypes of older people and ageing.

Down on the coast, Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has identified the need to address ageism in its Positive Ageing Strategy 2020-25, which acknowledges the importance of creating an age-friendly community where older people feel valued, respected and included.

They will challenge ageist stereotypes by promoting inclusive language and practice across council and supporting and encouraging meaningful intergenerational activities to develop a better understanding of ageing and older people across age groups.

Similarly, Cardinia Shire Council have implemented an Ageing Well Strategy that has ageism as a priority. They have identified intergenerational activities as a way to challenge ageism in the community.

In the past two years, this council’s Ageing Well and Youth Services teams have partnered with the U3A and Pakenham Library to organise competitive generation trivia nights. More than 60 young and older participants have enjoyed the opportunity of these intergenerational evenings where the fun of sharing facts has helped build connections across generations.

In Port Phillip, they have developed an Older Persons Advisory Committee (OPAC) that focusses on ageism. It is the key advisory Committee to Port Phillip City Council and provides advice, advocacy and feedback on issues that affect the health and wellbeing of older residents.

The council’s OPAC has ageism as one of seven key focus areas with a strategic action to raise awareness of ageism, and advocate against discrimination of older people.  The committee sees a need for consistent messaging around ageing and older people with professional development and training of council staff on ageism one way to achieve this.

Our first act in support of this campaign was for the MAV Board to ‘take the pledge’ and by doing so, we agreed to move forward without ageism.

This pledge was: ‘we stand for a world without ageism where all people of all ages are valued and respected and their contributions are acknowledged. We commit to speak out and take action to ensure older people can participate on equal terms with others in all aspects of life.’

Now that we have taken the pledge, we commit to shining a light on any prejudice expressed towards a person because of their age.

We will also counter any discriminatory practices against older people when it comes to employment and other social roles.

One of the easiest and most effective ways you can combat ageism is by changing social attitudes through raising awareness, education and building intergenerational connections within our communities.

By becoming positive ageing advocates, we can help to stamp out ageism in our communities.

Warm regards,

Cr David Clark
MAV President

This opinion editorial was published on 6 August 2021 and appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard.