Report of the Tribunal
The “People’s Tribunal” was an astonishing exploration of the way in which African grandmothers contend– both poignantly and courageously—with their beleaguered lives. It was, of course, a logical extension to the Grandmothers’ Gatherings in both Canada and Africa, as well as the frequent trips, back and forth, of African grandmothers to Canada and Canadian grandmothers to Africa. It’s no exaggeration to say that an international Grandmothers’ movement has been created.
We don’t pretend that this is some supernatural achievement on the part of the Foundation. But we would argue that recognition of the struggles of grandmothers, and their collective embrace of orphans, is unique in the annals of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. What’s more it’s indispensable. Let us explain why.
The current mantra in dealing with AIDS is “zero deaths,” “zero new infections.” It’s a strategy promoted by UNAIDS with the support of the scientific and political establishments. And it’s entirely admirable except for one fatal flaw: it leaves out whole categories of people who are adversely affected by the virus. Two of those categories are grandmothers and orphans.
Incredibly enough, in the latest issue of the comprehensive UNAIDS update on the pandemic, 2013, published just a few weeks ago, grandmothers and orphans are written out of the text. They nowhere appear! Where grandmothers are concerned, this could be seen as a willful slap to the face of gender equality; where orphans are concerned, it could be seen as a gross violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Taken together it’s an astonishing gap in the response. But ours is not to take issue…ours is to demonstrate why the Tribunal was so profoundly important.
Somewhere, some organization—and in this case, we proudly say it’s the Foundation—must give profile to the grandmothers of Africa and the staggering demands they face in raising orphan grandchildren. In several countries, the grandmothers, many who are themselves HIV-positive, look after between 40 and 60 per cent of the orphans, and there are some 15 to 16 million orphans.
In the face of this intense human predicament, we could become insensate with rage at the injustice of it all. But that’s not our choice. Our choice is to honour the grandmothers, enfold the orphans in our arms, and support them to make all of their lives whole again.
Chair of the Board & Co-Founder
Stephen Lewis Foundation
Executive Director & Co-Founder
Stephen Lewis Foundation