Categorized | English, WSF 2010

African Grandmothers Demand Support in Role as Caregivers

Posted on 14 May 2010 by editor

March at the birth of the African Grandmothers' Movement: 'We demand economic independence to support our families.' Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS TerraViva

By Mantoe Phakathi

MANZINI, Swaziland, May 13, 2010 (IPS) – “Africa cannot survive without us,” is the message from grandmothers representing all corners of the continent.

More than 3,000 grandmothers marched in the streets of Swaziland’s commercial hub, Manzini on May 8, demanding financial independence to provide nutritious food, decent housing, access to ongoing quality education for their grandchildren and a better life.

“We demand the economic independence to support our families,” said 90-year-old Judith Simelane as she read the Manzini statement, marking the birth of the African Grandmothers Movement.

Freda Shabangu (70), a grandmother of 12 whose five children have all passed away, also participated in the march. From the meagre grant equivalent to about U.S. $80 that she receives from the Swazi government every three months, Shabangu has to provide for all the needs of her grandchildren.

“I’m happy that for the first time grandmothers are speaking for themselves about their problems,” she told IPS.

With sub-Saharan Africa accounting for two-thirds of people living with HIV and AIDS globally, grandparents, especially grandmothers like Shabangu, have had to take up the responsibility of caring for ailing children and raising their grandchildren. Unfortunately, most African nations provide little or nothing in the way of social security support for this group. They also receive little recognition their contribution to national efforts to deal with HIV.

“We must have the resources to build our own capacity to raise healthy families and assist one another,” said Simelane. “We call for more training in critical areas such as home-based care, HIV/AIDS education, parenting orphans, healthcare, literacy and financial management.”

Supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation, the first ever African Grandmothers Gathering brought together 500 grandmothers from 14 countries in Africa and 42 of their Canadian counterparts.

The Canadian grandmothers present here are part of thousands back home who are in solidarity with their African sisters,” said Elizabeth Rennie from the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign.

“These Canadian grandmothers,” Rennie added, “are raising funds back home to support programmes that are aimed at giving their African counterparts a better life”.

The idea of the gathering, according to Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL) director Siphiwe Hlophe, was conceived back in 2006 in Toronto, Canada, in response to the emerging crisis grandmothers face in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This event is the beginning of a process for Africa to recognise grandmothers who have been valiantly coping with the HIV/AIDS pandemic for over two decades,” said Hlophe. Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, the executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, said her organisation has a philosophy that if communities were to get the money they need to start businesses, they could turn the tide around.

“That’s what these grandmothers are asking for,” said Landsberg-Lewis. “They are demanding for better policies that would support them in their communities.”

Towards this end, the foundation is funding income-generating programmes for grandmothers in some African countries. In Uganda, an NGO called St. Francis is helping grandmothers establish businesses and also save their profits. The organisation has been working with 120 grandmothers since 2007. Most of these grandmothers are living with HIV/AIDS.

“We give each granny 100 dollars to start whatever business they think is suitable for them,” said Angela Kirabo Ashaba, St. Francis grandmothers programme officer. St. Francis removes the burden of travelling to banks and engaging in complicated paperwork by keeping grandmothers’ savings safe at their offices.

“Besides the fact that banks are intimidating to grandmothers,” said Anne Mwangi from Kenya’s WEM Integrated Health Services (WEMIHS), “interest generated through the traditional revolving money fund goes back to the grandmothers. It doesn’t go to the bank or micro-lending company.”

The organisation also helps the grandmothers decide how to spend their savings on necessities such as school fees for their grandchildren and buying food.

Conference delegates also discussed strategies for coping with HIV/AIDS through the establishment of support groups for grandmothers, disclosure of HIV-positive grandchildren, social security and violence against grandmothers.

Speaking at the official opening, Ntombi Tfwala, the Queen Mother of Swaziland, said rape of grandmothers is now common. “In other cases we hear that thugs attack and rob elderly women of the little that they have,” said Tfwala. “I take this opportunity to rebuke these evils that are making life uncomfortable for all of us.”

A good look at the grandmothers attending the gathering was enough to dispel the stereotypical image of a grandmother. Not only your typical grey-haired women, the definition of grandmothers is contextual as observed by United Nations Population Fund country representative-Swaziland Aisha Camara-Drammeh.

“In the African context, particularly in Swaziland, a grandmother can either be an elderly woman irrespective of age, married or unmarried but as long as she has a grandchild,” said Camara-Drammeh.

She said a grandmother could also be someone who does not have children of her own but “becomes granny because of being part of an extended family.”

From the above description, Camara-Drammeh said the roles of grandmothers are different and the burden felt varies depending on the situation at hand.


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