STATEMENT ON OBSERVANCE OF THE UN INTERNATIONAL DAY OF OLDER PERSONS
The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) joins older members of society, Kenya and the world at large in observing the United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). The International Day of Older Persons takes place annually on 1st October. The essence of this day is to raise awareness about issues affecting older persons as well as appreciate the contributions older people make to society. The UNIDOP theme for 2021 is “Digital Equity for All Ages’’, and affirms the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons. Digital Equity (DE) is a condition in which all individuals and communities have information technology capacity for full participation and engagement in society. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA, 2021), Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to information, and essential services.
Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) is a key driver of development and is an accelerator for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Kenya’s Vision 2030, and our national development blue prints-the Big Four Agenda. Advancement in the technological ecosystem is certainly changing lives and ways of doing things including how people relate and connect, conduct business, learn, obtain, share and store information. However, there is an emerging risk of digital exclusions and discrimination directed to some groups of persons. A report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) 2020, indicates that women and older persons experience digital inequity to a greater extent than other groups in society. There is no doubt that such groups of people including persons with disabilities, and populations living in areas less covered by ICT infrastructure suffer from digital illiteracy, are exposed to a deficient digital ecosystem, misinformation, exploitation via technological solutions, lack of digital privacy and security, and are exposed to cybercrimes, violence and threats.
Many actors in the public and private sectors have in the recent past invested heavily in advanced technology-enabled platforms for service delivery, dissemination, and learning. The digital space has been expanded more than ever before particularly in the developing countries mainly to deal with disruptions occasioned by the emergence of pandemics such as COVID-19, climatic shocks and natural calamities, insecurity, as well as to support innovations, creativity and explorations. In Kenya, some of the services that have benefitted largely from digital advancement include tax services, land management, registrations of persons, trading, court proceedings, insurance services, smart city programs, financial transactions, e-health, and communications. While all persons including older members of society have to adjust to new technologically enabled ways of work and life, it is apparent that little investments have been dedicated for the orientation and induction of these groups to the emerging advancements.
According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, the ownership of mobile phones though generally higher among men compared to women, declines with age with a significant reduction observed among men and women aged 55 years and above. Further, the ownership of mobile phones is very low among men and women of ages 75 and above. Among persons aged 25 years and above, the use of the mobile phone without owning it increases with age meaning that only a small segment of older persons uses mobile phones for various digital-related actions. It is worth noting that among users, a majority of them don’t own the phone. Smaller proportions of older persons use the internet or a computer as compared to other groups (Draft Kenya ICT Gender Monograph, 2021). This data points to significantly higher levels of digital inequity and risks that older persons are predisposed to through rapidly growing technological demands. They are denied full benefits of owning a mobile phone, use of the internet or a computer. This may explain the low utilization levels by older persons of government services delivered through digital spaces.
The overall implication of digital inequity is that it limits the enjoyment of rights of older persons as stipulated in Article 57 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 specifically Article 57 (a) and (b): the rights to fully participate in the affairs of society and to pursue their personal development respectively. Today, a large proportion of older members of society are victims of fraud and manipulation by their children and caregivers because they are not digitally independent and lack minimum digital literacy.
The Commission notes the progressive programs contained in Kenya’s National Information, Communication and Technology Policy, 2019 and applauds the Government for its commitment to improving digital inclusion among all Kenyans. More specifically, we note that the policy seeks to among others, ensure that all government services are available through digital spaces, that every Kenyan has online access, and that government services are delivered quickly and fully at the time and place that they are needed.
As we celebrate the 2021 International Day of Older Persons, the Commission wishes to advise all actors to ensure that the implementation of National Information, Communication and Technology Policy among older persons takes cognizance of the provisions of the National Policy on Older Persons and Ageing, 2014, which among others advocates for an environment that recognizes, empowers, and facilitates older persons to participate in the society and enjoy their rights, freedoms and live in dignity. In addition, this day presents an opportunity for all actors in the adult learning and continuing education sector to reflect and revamp strategies for the delivery of intensive digital literacy programs directed to older persons.
The Commission calls on the state to continue making deliberate efforts on digital inclusion to reduce and eliminate barriers to access and use of technology. We reiterate the fact that, the Commission is committed to supporting the State to continuously observe the UN principles of older persons with a focus on national development programs. This means upholding the independence, participation, care, self–fulfilment, and dignity of older persons. We also wish to reaffirm our commitment to protecting the rights of older members of society, promoting their freedom from discrimination, and holding duty bearers to account for measures put in place to improve digital equity for older persons. We acknowledge that the older members of the society are an important segment of the population whose rights must be protected, respected and promoted by all. Their contributions to development cannot be understated and must be appreciated at all times.
Let us all embrace the digital equity for older persons and keep watch on the central, transformative promise of the Agenda 2030, ‘Leave no one behind’.
Dr. Joyce M. Mutinda (PhD)