Go Grannies Go

I am a grandmother of 11 and a great-grandmother of 3. Along with thousands of other grandmothers and “grand-others” across Canada, I am a passionate advocate for social justice and in particular, for the rights and dignity of grandmothers in sub-Saharan Africa. These courageous women are raising the majority of the 17 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

This is my first posting about the exciting work I undertook as a recipient of the Alan Thomas Fellowship with the Carold Institute in 2009-10.  I studied the uniquely Canadian-African Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign to find answers to the question: How do we engage, nurture and sustain older women advocates in civil society?

The Grandmothers Campaign was launched in 2006 when the Stephen Lewis Foundation invited 100 grandmothers from Africa to meet with 200 Canadian grandmothers in Toronto just prior to the World AIDS Conference. I was privileged to be one of the grandmothers at the Gathering.

The experience changed my life. I was overwhelmed by the strength and courage of the African grandmothers. I was grief-stricken and appalled to think of what it would be like in their situation– to nurse and bury your own children, then turn around to raise multiple grandchildren and other vulnerable young people, most often in desperate circumstances of poverty and illness. When I left the Gathering, I knew that doing nothing was NOT an option.

Others felt like me. And in just six years, an amazing–almost magical–grassroots movement has emerged. There are now over 240 voluntary groups (ranging in size from 10 to 50 members) across Canada. Recently from these groups, the Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN) has emerged. GRAN has against all odds, become a force to be reckoned with on the socio-political front.

The Canadian grandmothers are impassioned and tenacious. We have marched on Parliament Hill, met with MPs and Senators, presented petitions, partnered with other civil society organizations and used Facebook and Twitter to inform our large networks of all ages. Our tenacious sisters in Africa, who are pressing their governments and the international community to turn the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa, inspire us to act.

While advocacy has always been an important function of social movements, it is not often associated with older women. Canadian and African grandmothers have turned the stereotypical image of granny in her rocking chair on its head.

Some 30 years ago, Gloria Steinem said, “Some day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.”

That army is on the move now. I’ll tell you more about it in my next blog.

More …

Peggy’s work is captured in a ten-minute video that demonstrates the empowerment, passion and enormous capacity of older women through the stories of six composite granny activists. The video, a facilitator’s guide and accompanying handouts are available free at www.grannyvoices.com.

Visit GRAN at www.grandmothersadvocacy.org

Visit www.grandmotherscampaign.org for more information on the Grandmothers Campaign.