Ageing of the Oppressed

A Pandemic of Intersecting Injustice

by Silvia Perel-Levin (Volume editor)
©2023 Textbook XII, 190 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 542


Ageing of the Oppressed: A Pandemic of Intersectional Injustice explores what it is like to grow older with accumulating and intersecting discrimination. It condemns ageism and other "isms." Despite its visibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, ageism is not a new phenomenon but one that has been ignored for too long by policymakers and the general population. The negative language used to describe population ageing adds fuel to the fire by filling people’s minds with ageist images that permeate all levels and sectors of society. We should all be recognized as full human rights holders, no matter our age, ability, disability, gender or sexual orientation, race, or socio-economic or any other status. This book combines theoretical models and academic essays by top experts with the real-life experience of older persons and activists. It is a must-read for advocates for human rights; policymakers; service providers; students of social and health sciences, the humanities, and law; and anybody willing to challenge assumptions and practices. The proposed UN Convention on the human rights of older persons will be a step forward to providing older persons with a remedy for daily and often life-long oppression.

Silvia Perel-Levin, a highly respected international expert and leading advocate on human rights and ageing, has brought together contributors from around the world and from different disciplines to reflect on ageing, human rights, and oppression in its many forms. The book offers provocative, moving, and powerful stories and analyses of marginalization in older age and the interaction of age and other forms of discrimination in the denial of human rights. The book demands of its readers that they reflect deeply on their own ageism, prejudices, and complacency. A must-have for anyone interested in ageing, human rights, law, and structures of power in our societies.
—Andrew Byrnes, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

As an eminent global advocate for the improvement of human rights of all citizens and most especially older people, Silvia Perel-Levin is well qualified to bring together leading experts in their field to convey through storytelling the manifest urgency for formal recognition and collective action against unjust treatment in all its forms. Each narrative will leave an imprint on your soul of the pain of being human yet most importantly the innate power in voice and meaningful engagement.
—Jane Barratt, Secretary General, International Federation on Ageing

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Ageing of the Oppressed: A Pandemic of Intersecting Injustice
  • 1. Growing Old Among Inequalities in Brazil
  • 2. The Cultural Cage
  • 3. Living and Aging with Disability: A Personal Account
  • 4. LGBTI Elders Advancing
  • 5. The Intersection Between Old Age and Disability
  • 6. About Us Without All of Us: The Elephants in the Room
  • 7. Mental Health, Physical Health, Older Age, and Oppression
  • 8. Human Rights of Older Persons: Wishful Thinking or Reality?
  • 9 “Viva La Nannalution!” Overcoming Ageist Sexism in Environmental Activism: The Australian Older Women’s Knitting Nannas Against Gas and Greed
  • 10. The Silver Tsunami, the Ticking Time Bomb and Other Demographic Imaginaries: Moving from Demographic Threat to Demographic Resilience
  • About the Authors



This book would not have been written without the encouragement of my dear cousin and writing mentor, Judith Pearl Summerfield. She managed to instill in me confidence to embark on this project. She is always there to read my drafts, provide useful feedback and solid advice, and always finds the words to make me want to continue.

I would also like to thank:

The series editor, Shirley Steinberg, who understood me and gave me a stage.

All the writers who engaged with me in multiple dialogues to achieve meaningful chapters. I thank them for their time, and their trust: Alex Kalache, Bette Moskowitz, Adolf Ratzka, Michael Adams, Kate Swaffer, María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Liat Ayalon, Claudia Mahler, Larraine j. Larri and Alanna Armitage.

Those behind the scenes, who helped with translations, editing, copy- editing and more: Paul Faber, Delories Dunn de Ayuso, Abigail Harris-Culver, Mary Murphy and Marcela San Martín.

Blake Calderwood for designing the cover.

And always my family: My man Mark Levin, who has read, edited, provided feedback and also cooked, brought me tea and coffee to the desk and went out for walks on his own so that I could concentrate on the task at hand. And to my remarkable adult children: Gal, Assaf and Aviv Levin, who never tire of listening to my stories.


Ageing of the Oppressed: A Pandemic of Intersecting Injustice

Silvia Perel-Levin


A Personal Introduction

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal have shaped my ideological and professional life through all its twists and turns.123

I was introduced to Paulo Freire’s work circa 1974–75 when, every afternoon after school, my friend Eva and I used to go to the small wooden school shack with its corrugated metal roof that an evangelist group had built in the shanty town, La Carcova, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Our mission, as part of our militancy in the Union de Estudiantes Secundarios [Union of Secondary Students], was to help children with their school homework. We soon realized that these kids couldn’t read and sometimes, they just needed something to eat. Often, their parents couldn’t read either. These children from the Villa Miseria (shanty town) were always at the back of the class in schools. They rarely got the teachers’ attention, except for disciplinary measures. Eva and I didn’t know how to help to make a difference, how to rescue them from the never-ending cycle of controlling behavior that instilled discipline and imposed punishments that these children were used to.

Our UES chief or team leader, El Gallego [the Galician; his militant nom de guerre], contacted a professor of early childhood education, a friend of his mother, so that she could advise us. For this connection, El Gallego gave us his real name. We never used our real names, but that is how this woman knew him: Horacio García Gastelú. The military took him by force from his girlfriend’s house and he “disappeared” a few months after the military coup of March 1976. His remains were found years later in the common grave of the Massacre of Fátima, the same massacre where 30 young people, including my friend Norma and The Paraguayan Oscar, were murdered and dynamited in Fatima, north of Buenos Aires, on August 20, 1976.4 Horacio was featured in the 2014 documentary El Futuro es Nuestro [The Future is Ours].5 His mother, one of the founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, passed away recently as I was writing these lines.

This professor commended our efforts and proposed we use corners of the shack for different activities as was done at the time in kindergartens. She gave us simple play tips. But this was not a kindergarten and we had no resources. This is when another schoolmate or compañero introduced us to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire as an example of educational techniques used for adult literacy that could help us, as Freire himself had used his method with his maid and illiterate poor people.

We didn’t have much success with our educational enterprise. The task was clearly too ambitious for us, two teenagers. At the time, the work of literacy for poor people was a subversive activity and therefore a dangerous one. The violence of the months before the military coup, the military-led dictatorship that started in 1976, the disappearances, the persecutions, and the deep fear, not only drew me away from the Villa, but also from the country.

A few years later, during my studies in Social and Educational Theatre at Tel Aviv University, I deeply connected with Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, obviously building on Freire’s work. I wrote essays on his theories and used his techniques—the Forum Theater, Invisible Theater, and theater games—in the Community Theater Project I coordinated in a neighborhood in south Tel-Aviv and in the theater and puppetry workshops I ran for teachers and community leaders from Israel and developing countries.6 I wanted to make theater meaningful for everyone, to mobilize communities away from being just passive spectators to being spect-actors toward social change. Boal’s view of catharsis is not to create equilibrium, as normally understood, but rather to create a “disequilibrium” which prepares the way for action. Individuals, and by extension society itself, can be changed by a catharsis that is not the sole province of the controlling group; as a removal of blocks, the purification is in the action.78

When I moved to Geneva in the late 1990s and started working with United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), I continued to apply Boal’s approach to promote health and social justice. Making the voices of people in vulnerable situations heard has always been part of my life.

I have been a defender of the human rights of older persons for over 20 years at the UN, in its specialized agencies including several years at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Human Rights mechanisms, mostly the Human Rights Council.

Human Rights of Older Persons, Oppression, and Intersectionality

Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent.9 We all have rights simply because we are human beings regardless of nationality; ethnic, social, or economic background; religion; gender; age or any other status. All rights are equally important, whether it is the right to life, food, education, adequate housing, work, health, liberty, and more, as set out in the International Bill of Human Rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights) and all international human rights treaties.1011


XII, 190
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (September)
United Nations Older Persons Violence Ageing of the Oppressed A Pandemic of Intersecting Injustice Silvia Perel-Levin Ageing Ageism Discrimination Oppression LGBTI Disability Dementia Pedagogy of the Oppressed Theatre of the Oppressed Human Rights Intersectionality
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. XII, 190 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Silvia Perel-Levin (Volume editor)

Silvia Perel-Levin is an advocate for the human rights of older persons at international organizations, and as an independent consultant. She has a B.A. in Social Theater from Tel Aviv University and an M.Sc. in Inter-Professional Practice, Society, and Violence from City University London.


Title: Ageing of the Oppressed