The UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs (UNDESA) celebrates International Youth Day every year on August 12. This year, the theme of the day is Intergenerational Solidarity. Ageism denotes stereotypical thoughts, prejudiced feelings and discriminatory actions aimed at people based on their age.
According to Global Health Report published in 2021, ageism “can be institutional, interpersonal or self-directed. Institutional ageism refers to the laws, rules, social norms, policies, and practices of institutions that unfairly restrict opportunities and systematically disadvantage individuals because of their age. Interpersonal ageism arises in interactions between two or more individuals, while self-directed ageism occurs when ageism is internalized and turned against oneself.”
Ageism is usually compounded with at least one or all other vicious “isms” such as ableism, sexism, and racism. Three strategies outlined to tackle ageism include: policy and law; educational and intergenerational contact interventions. Finally, the report provides three recommendations which are namely: investing in evidence-based strategies to prevent ageism; improving data and research to gain a better understanding of ageism and how to reduce it, and building a movement to change the narrative around age and aging.
USAID Scholars Activity, a USD 53+ million grant implemented by the American University in Cairo over the period from 2020-2030, is providing both educational and intergenerational contact interventions to curb ageism. The program offers full academic scholarships in fee-based credit hour programs administered in the English language at nine partner universities: Cairo University; Alexandria University; Ain Shams University; Assuit University; Mansoura University; Zewail City for Science, Technology and Innovation; AlAlamein International University, Badr University in Cairo and the American University in Cairo. The program is targeting 727 students over five gender-balanced cohorts with 10-15 percent students with disabilities. These young men and women come from all 27 governorates of Egypt demonstrating financial need, exhibiting leadership potential and achieving academic merit.
On the occasion of International Youth Day, the USAID Scholars Activity hosted a panel discussion addressing barriers to intergenerational dialogue among various age groups; the role of coaching in bridging the intergenerational gap between generations; and private sector engagement in curbing ageism in the professional domain.
The discussion featured representatives from Voltalia, a French company working in twenty countries that produce renewable energy within the Benban Solar Park framework. For Sherwet Rashwan, a student of USAID Scholars Activity studying energy and renewable energy engineering at Ain Shams University, who interned at Voltalia, mentorship is a key form of intergenerational solidarity providing an opportunity for ongoing dialogue. She also underscored the importance of intra-generational solidarity among people within the same age group through sharing knowledge and information. In the same context, Sara Amir, project manager at Voltalia, emphasized how “multi-generational dialogue is empowering and inspiring for all parties.”
Basant Kamel, project manager at Voltalia and the youngest staff member in their Cairo Office, steered the discussion towards the need for full inclusivity in climate action in terms of both age and gender. Sara shared how their organizational culture supports gender equality, diversity, and inclusion through leading by example in the workplace.
Omnia Abdelhamid, another student of USAID Scholars Activity studying engineering at Ain Shams University who also interned at Voltalia, referred to the biases against girls in STEM education. Basant confirmed the point indicating that only 27 percent of females make it to the STEM workforce. For her, it is not only an issue of access to education but more so to employment.
While Sherwet who also interned at Voltalia, pointed out that even when women make it to studying engineering, few end up going to work on-site. As a matter of fact, USAID Scholars Activity is creating a narrative to inspire young females to pursue STEM careers in energy, water and agriculture; yet a lot more work needs to be done to ensure that we have a world for all ages.