MP Sylvia Lim calls for combating ageism and building a Singapore for all ages

MP Sylvia Lim calls for combating ageism and building a Singapore for all ages

On Tuesday (18 Apr), during the parliamentary debate over President Halimah Yacob’s address, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Ms Sylvia Lim delivered a thought-provoking speech on the need to combat ageism and build a country for all ages.

Ms Lim, who was born in the 1960s, began her speech by stating that her cohort-mates and she found themselves straddled between seniors and the young.

She emphasized the importance of giving greater confidence to seniors and the young, to assure them that they are indispensable parts of Singapore’s social fabric, highlighting that ageism, directed against both older people and the young, erodes solidarity across generations and needs to be addressed.

Ms Lim highlighted the findings of the World Health Organisation’s Global Report on Ageism, which notes that about one out of every two persons worldwide harbours ageist attitudes.

Emphasising that ageism manifests itself in people’s minds, Ms Lim went on to explain that ageism can exist at three levels: at the institutional level, when laws, policies and social norms restrict or disadvantage individuals based on age; at the interpersonal level, in interactions between two or more individuals; and at the self-directed level, when ageism is internalized by those who are discriminated against and then accepted, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ms Lim highlighted various instances of ageism, such as overprotecting seniors with good intentions, assuming that they need help, without stopping to think that everyone ages differently.

She also spoke about elderly people who cannot stay with their families and need to rent rooms but are rejected by landlords in view of their advanced age. She noted that ageist attitudes are also familiar in the workplace, where older workers face discrimination, and highlighted that the recent global COVID pandemic saw ageism rear its ugly head.

Ms Lim emphasized the need for laws, policies, public education, and increased intergenerational contacts to combat ageism.

She highlighted Singapore’s health-related initiatives towards active ageing, and the government’s efforts to incentivize employers to hire older workers through wage offset schemes such as the Senior Employment Credit.

Ms Lim called for stronger protection for all workers and noted that Singapore is eagerly awaiting the anti-discrimination legislation, which the Prime Minister announced nearly two years ago. She emphasized that the other two strategies that are likely to have more impact are public education and increasing intergenerational contacts.

She suggested reviewing Singapore’s education curriculum from primary to tertiary to remove ageist stereotypes and dispel misconceptions about certain age groups.

Ms Lim also noted that intergenerational contacts benefit older people in improved health and psychosocial well-being, reducing distress and loneliness and strengthening intergenerational solidarity.

She spoke positively about Singapore’s initiative of pairing seniors from activity centres with young people to play video games together.

Ms Lim also spoke about the need to empower the young, stating that young citizens can and should seize the day and organize themselves around the causes they care about, adding to the richness of Singaporean society through such ground-up initiatives.

She highlighted that the many conversations conducted so far have led to conversation fatigue and scepticism and called for meaningful participation of the young in governance and policy-making.

Ms Lim suggested giving younger cohorts a direct say in national elections by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years, noting that Singapore is among a handful of countries in the world that has not reduced its voting age to 18 years.

“As I said in February, in the 1960s, the movement in the United States to bring down the voting age to 18 years gained momentum when youths below 21 were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, ” said Ms Lim and quoting the slogan that ran: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!”

Ms Lim concluded her speech by emphasizing the importance of fostering a dynamic environment where ageist stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are blown away, and urged all citizens to contribute to this endeavour in their everyday interactions.


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