Indian grandmothers learn solar engineering and bring light to their dark villages and teach others to do the same.
Indian grandmothers learn solar engineering and bring light to their dark villages and teach others to do the same.

Credit: From “Grandmother Power” by Paola Gianturco, published by powerHouse Books.

(WOMENSENEWS)–Insurgent grandmothers are fighting the status quo, successfully seeding peace, justice, education, health, human rights and a better world for grandchildren everywhere.

While working in Kenya, Cameroon, Swaziland and South Africa, I met so many grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS that it seemed to me the future of that continent rests with its grandmothers.

They inspired me to wonder what other grandmothers around the world are doing.

Grandmothers in India are learning solar engineering and bringing light to their villages. In Argentina, grandmothers have searched out more than 100 grandchildren who were kidnapped during the military dictatorship, and returned them to their families. Their search continues. Israeli grandmothers are monitoring military checkpoints to prevent human rights abuses of Palestinians. In the Philippines, grandmothers who were forced into sex slavery during World War II are demanding a place in history books so their experience will never be repeated. Irish grandmothers are teaching their grandchildren to plant and cook, encouraging good nutrition and reducing child obesity.

These heroic stories cause me to ask:

  • If I were an illiterate grandmother, would I have the gumption and intellectual discipline to master solar engineering?
  • If I were HIV positive, would I have the energy and spirit to support a dozen grandchildren orphaned by AIDS while I grieved for their parents, my children?
  • Would I have the courage and moral clarity, as Israeli grandmothers do, to protect the human rights of the people whose land my country occupies?
  • Would I be tenacious enough to fight a foreign government after more than 60 years, as the Philippine grandmothers do?

Would you?

Universal Campaigns

This is the first time in history that grandmothers have campaigned universally and vigorously for political, economic and social change. Grandmothers all over the world are forming and joining groups. As a grandmother myself, I suspect this activism is stimulated by our tightly connected, troubled world, which impels us to improve the future for our grandchildren.

The grandmothers in this book are teaching important lessons about values and character. Canadian grandmothers are teaching generosity and collaboration. In the Philippines and Argentina, grandmothers exemplify patience, perseverance and justice. The South African and Swaziland grandmothers are modeling resilience and mercy. In Ireland, Peru, Laos, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, grandmothers are sustaining traditions–while their sisters in India, Senegal and the United States catalyze change. Indigenous and Israeli grandmothers are seeding hope and peace

A worldwide grandmother movement is underway even though grandmother groups in different countries are not aware of each other.

Demographic Shift

The grandmother movement results, in part, from demographics. There are more grandmothers on the planet than at any other time in history. For thousands of years, there were none; people simply didn’t live beyond the age of about 30. Now, at least in the developed world, grandmothers are healthier, better off and younger than ever before. And there are lots of them: in the United States in 2012, there were 38 million grandmothers. There will be 42 million by 2015.

One third of the entire U.S. population is grandparents, the majority of them between 45 and 64 years old. In 2011, baby boomers, aged 47 to 65, made up more than half of all grandparents in the country.

Everyday, 4,000 people in the United States become grandparents for the first time and they can expect to be grandparents for the next 40 years. Thanks to quality health care and longer life expectancy, by 2030, five or six generations may be alive at the same time and the majority of children in the United States may have eight great-grandparents and four grandparents.

More than demographics drive the grandmother movement though. It may be an expression of the Grandmother Hypotheses, an evolutionary biology theory that women live past their reproductive years to help their grandchildren.

Many grandmothers are raising their grandchildren. In the United States in 2008, close to 2 million children lived with grandmother caregivers, an arrangement that crossed ethnic and racial lines: 50 percent of those grandmothers were white; 27 percent African American; 18 percent Hispanic; and 3 percent Asian.

Even if they are not primary caregivers, grandmothers often help care for their grandchildren, and they definitely care about them. In 2009 the Pew Research Center surveyed 1,300 U.S. grandparents about what they valued most in life. "Time with grandchildren" topped the list.

From "Grandmother Power" by Paola Gianturco, published by powerHouse Books. Women’s eNews is hosting a launch party for this book in its New York City headquarters on Monday Oct. 29, from 6.30 p.m. – 8.30 p.m. RSVP here.

Photojournalist Paola Gianturco has documented women’s lives in 55 countries and has now created five books as philanthropic projects. Her images have been exhibited at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters; United Nations’ New York headquarters; Chicago’s Field Museum; San Francisco’s International Museum of Women; and many other venues, as well as published in national and international magazines and newspapers. All author royalties from this book will be donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, which provides grants to African grandmothers in 15 countries who are raising children orphaned by AIDS.

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