…calls for a holistic social protection approach
For older people to have a voice in Namibia, there is a need for an older person’s organization to be established or strengthened to advocate for the rights and welfare of older people. This is to enable a comprehensive policy or law on older persons, said Advocate Bience Gawanas, special advisor to minister of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare.
“Many elder people especially grandmothers are today taking care of grandchildren and great grandchildren rather than being taken care of with the pension they receive,” lamented Gawanas while speaking at a public event recently.
However, despite these realities, the high youth employment rates and increased demand for participation in decision making has seen older people being pushed out of sight.
Gawanas holds the view that this section of the population – if the necessary avenues are provided – can contribute positively to Namibia’s economic growth.
Gawanas said older people can live longer, healthier and productive provided people use the retirement savings to invest in themselves.
“Therefore it is argued that devoting resources to older persons is arguably the right thing to do, the fair thing to do and the just thing to do,” she said.
Gawanas added: “I have earlier talked about the face of poverty. No one should feel left out” is the clarion call in our fight against poverty and for prosperity and this should include older persons for the sake of social and cross generational cohesion, peace and equity.
“We talk about the social transformation of our society and this will not be achieved unless there are deliberate interventions given the fact that many family or individual resources are not always adequate to cater for the needs of older people. They most likely depend on other family members for their well-being. Without any other assistance, they will fall deeper into poverty and increased ill-health.”
The needs and vulnerabilities of older persons include among others: lack of income; food insecurity and nutrition; health insecurity; lack of physical care; lack of protection against abuse, neglect and abandonment; discrimination and humiliation among others.
Older people (people aged 60 years and above) make up 7,1% of the total population with men (40% and women 60%).
At this juncture, Gawanas was quick to note that Namibia urgently needs to address poverty, especially among the most vulnerable in society, a holistic social protection approach was thus imminent.
“Namibia is hailed as having one of the best social protection systems especially its universal pension scheme but the impact is hampered by fragmentation of interventions as different social protections are managed by different institutions. The Ministry of Poverty Eradication has been tasked to investigate this fragmentation and developed a comprehensive and integrated Social Protection system with wide coverage and ensuring that no one who should benefit from it is excluded,” Gawanas noted.
At present, the poverty eradication, ministry of gender, Social Security Commission and Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) each has its own social protection scheme, something Gawanas believes needs to be addressed.
“To overcome poverty by ensuring access to Social Protection and basic services including reforming social systems to better meet the needs of older persons by investing in their health and well-being,” she said.
Social protection is a major area of government interventions aimed at lifting people out of poverty and secure their well-being and financial situation.
Currently 165,140 people receive Old Age grants through the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare.
Each pensioner receives a monthly grant of N$1200 from the State.
Another issue according to Gawanas is assessing the impact of social protection system as a whole and not only one aspect of it.
These indicators include: financial, physical and social situation of older persons; age friendliness of environments; quality of life; health status; economic and physical security and their vulnerability to crime.
An age friendly Namibia
Additionally, Gawanas said there was a need for Namibians to make Namibia an age friendly nation.
This can be achieved by ensuring effective social protection programmes are geared towards meeting the needs of older persons and respect for their rights and welfare.
More so, the elder need better financial education to enable them to understand why retirement savings are crucial.
She added that age friendly places such as community day care centres where old people can meet with their peers should be established.
According to Gawanas, the older people who are “our torch bearers and repositories of knowledge” are mostly trapped in their houses in the absence of age friendly places.
She added: “Negative views about ageing reduced older people to be seen as a burden rather than social capital and repositories of knowledge and culture and who can still live meaningful lives and contribute to nation building. Because of our negative perceptions, we underutilize their talents and have misconceptions about their abilities.”
She made the remarks at a gala dinner hosted by the Government Institutions Pension Fund in the capital recently.