About the Tribunal

Grandmothers leading the way

African grand­mothers are working to secure better futures for their commun­ities. They have stepped in to care for orphaned grand­children, putting them through school, supp­orting them through the loss of their parents to AIDS, and teaching them about HIV prevention and treatment. They tend to the sick, set up support groups, harvest the crops and create income-generating programmes. They are advocates for their families, and are emerging as experts and leaders, increasingly acknowledged by governments and international NGOs. But discrimination and gender inequality impose an unconscionable price.

Speaking from the grassroots

The African Grandmothers Tribunal amplified the voices of the courageous African grandmothers and sent a clarion call for change: for their rights to be promoted, protected and respected—rights to property, bodily integrity, income security, freedom from violence, and quality health care. Both the grandmothers and the expert wit­nesses—the representatives from grassroots organizations which support the grandmothers and the orphaned children in their care—spoke to the need for change through improved laws, policies, funding priorities, consultation, positive cultural practices and greater access to justice. The women spoke directly to the triple threat of discrimination grandmothers face at the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic, based on sex, age, and HIV status. We’ll hear wren­ching testimonies about the vulner­ability and dangers with which they contend so resourcefully.

A call for action

African grand­mothers deserve better—they deserve justice. The Stephen Lewis Foundation hosted this peoples’ tribunal to shine a public light on the denial of their human rights, and to stand with African grandmothers and their organi­zations as they issue a call for action. We heard from six representative grandmothers and two expert witnesses from the projects, and listened to the responses of the Tribunal judges: Gloria Steinem, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Joy Phumaphi, and Theo Sowa—who spoke to the remedies that must now be secured as an urgent priority for the grandmothers at the local, national and international levels.

The Grandmothers Movement

The Tribunal came at a critical moment in the Grandmothers Movement.

Several key milestones led to it. In March 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the Grand­mothers to Grand­mothers Campaign in response to the emerging crisis faced by African grand­mothers as they struggled to care for millions of children orphaned by AIDS. In August of that same year the Foundation hosted the first international Grandmothers Gathering on the eve of the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto. 100 African and 200 Canadian grandmothers gathered for three days and created the Toronto Statement, a joint declaration of commitment and intent. In May 2010, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and SWAPOL hosted the first African Grandmothers Gathering in Swaziland, attended by 500 grandmothers from 13 African countries and 42 Canadian grandmother delegates. At the end of the Gathering, 2,000 African grandmothers marched in the streets, demanding action and recognition of their central role in turning the tide of AIDS. They issued the Manzini Statement, a clarion call to the world for recognition, greater resources, legal protections and a richer quality of life. Today in Canada, over 240 grandmothers groups have raised more than $17 million for Africa’s indomitable grand­mothers, through African community-based organizations.