What began as a small gathering at the United Nations in 2006 has evolved into a multicultural, multilingual movement redefining the meaning of collective power for a world audience. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) has helped people understand what elder abuse is, acknowledge the importance of human and civil rights, and recognize the need for research, education, advocacy, and policy development. WEAAD brings together individuals, communities and organizations to raise awareness and to honour, respect, and celebrate the strength and resilience of older people. Now, on its 15th anniversary, WEAAD continues to provide a platform for voices to be heard, listened to and acted on.
WEAAD was initiated with anticipation, uncertainty, excitement, caution, and a great deal of fun. Volunteers were the heroes–WEAAD would not exist without them. Gradually, WEAAD progressed from relatively informal events to scholarly papers and eventually research and scientific papers being presented at gerontology, medical and social science conferences. WEAAD flourished with the advent of technology and social media. We went from obscurity to a movement that everyone "liked" and wanted to be a part of. From homemade, typed pamphlets to sophisticated media, our beautiful, colourful and impressive outreach materials are in demand, coveted, and available to all through a simple Internet search. Thought leaders have been urging us to evaluate WEAAD to find out how we’re doing and how much better we can be. We hope to do so, knowing that evaluation is fundamental to education and there is always a need for more conversation, more collaboration, and more collegiality.
This year, WEAAD takes place in a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The elderly have been disproportionately affected, causing concern that the rate of mistreatment has exponentially risen. Particularly worrisome is the social isolation that the pandemic has imposed, providing more opportunities for mistreatment and even greater danger for those with disabilities. Revelations about abuse in long-term care facilities have been stunning and shocking. If anything good comes out of the pandemic, it is acknowledgment of the ongoing suffering of elderly people in in long term care. The pandemic has also exposed deplorable situations within our criminal justice system. Who is looking out for people in jail? Does anyone care?
The deaths and upheaval of our social, economic and health systems will be felt for decades. But the pandemic has also presented opportunities for people to show their inner strength and actually become better people. During times like these, when a sense of belonging and human connection is crucial to our mental health and even to our survival, people are finding ways to stay engaged socially and continue to learn. They are using technology in all its forms – from webinars to zooming, to games, to lectures, and to book clubs.
This year, WEAAD takes place in a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic...Particularly worrisome is the social isolation that the pandemic has imposed, providing more opportunities for mistreatment and even greater danger for those with disabilities
WEAAD too aims to alleviate loneliness. After growing significantly in the past 15 years, the time has come to expand still more and to broaden our vision. This year we are initiating Plant a Tree for WEAAD. Trees are healing, soothing and magical; they help the environment and our health; and they can be planted anywhere in the world. A tree planted at the UN – the site of our first meeting – would be a powerful legacy for a movement that acknowledges that human rights lead our culture and civilization and that strives to keep people safe and empowered.
WEAAD is dedicated to older people who have charted paths, built communities, contributed to society and to all generations. The pandemic may have changed the world, but people still have the power to cope with adversity, to emerge stronger, more resilient, more thoughtful and giving.