As economic challenges are addressed digitally, remember the older people as well

In Summary

•Digital labor platforms have ensured the much-needed continuation of economic activities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

•Yet, they have not been without challenges.

Carole Ageng'o
Carole Ageng'o

The World Day of Social Justice will be celebrated on 20th February. According to the UN, the theme for this year’s celebration is ‘A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy’, informed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In this period, the technologically inspired remote working arrangements have allowed for the continuation of many business activities online, further reinforcing the growth and impact of the digital economy. However, the crisis has also laid bare and exacerbated the growing digital divide within, between and across countries, and among people of different ages. This has heightened the risk of socio-economic exclusion of older women and men.

For years now, the pendulum of digital advancement has swung predominantly away from the goals of social justice as concerns older persons. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) is explicit on public participation and engagement in policy formulation and implementation, leading to the “nothing for us without us” mantra by several social groups. However, from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability, affordability and use of information communication and technology (ICT) including access to the internet had posed serious challenges to older persons who continue to be sidelined in the relentless advancement of technology as the preferred way of engagement socially, economically, and politically.

Digital labor platforms have ensured the much-needed continuation of economic activities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and provided benefits from flexible work arrangements. Yet, they have not been without challenges. Changing structures in family economic activities and the restrictions in movement mean that older adults are often left with limited support. Consequently, these changes have negatively impacted the human rights of the older persons who suffer psychological, social, and economic violations. The participation of older people in economies and in policy reviews has been negligible or nonexistent. Altogether, the compounding unintentional, and intergenerational biases helps create a system of injustice that does not favor the older persons in our society.

By focusing on needs rather than rights, the human dignity, security, and autonomy of the older persons can be easily ignored. This is worsened by the limited or non-availability of initiatives to mainstream the participation of older women and men into the digital economy.

At HelpAge International, we contribute to the promotion of social justice by in turn promoting the rights of older persons to lead dignified, healthy, and secure lives. We support  the Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging (MIPPA, United Nations 2002), that urges governments to promote human rights instruments and support decision making among older people. It also enables people to work as long as they can and choose to; retiring with adequate pensions; assures that older people have equal access to preventive, curative, and rehabilitative care as others; and ensures that older people have access to decent housing; and are free from neglect, abuse, and violence. Accordingly, these rights must not be perceived as only a moral responsibility, as governments must commit to progressive change or concrete actions in the implementation of the MIPPA.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the Kenya Digital Economy Blueprint whose mission is to have a nation where every citizen, age notwithstanding, enterprise and organization has digital access and the capability to participate and thrive in the digital economy. With the rise in the population of older people, it is only prudent and strategic to include this significant segment of the population in the transformative technologies. It is also important to address the injustices that have gone unrecognized due to incorrect and ill-informed assumptions and prejudices that manifest through ageism. A 2019 World Bank report called for increasing investments in technology infrastructure and the adoption of forward thinking policies  and regulations to spur competition, expand digital markets and trade and narrow the digital divide for vulnerable people.

While ageing is a natural part of the human life cycle, the response to ageing must be viewed in a nondiscriminatory way to promote the wellbeing, dignity and health of older persons from a social, political and economic perspective HelpAge International, joins efforts to ensure the inclusion of older women and men in technological advancement so that they too could contribute and benefit from digital dividends as a critical component of social justice.


The writer is the Regional Director, Africa at HelpAge International