International Women's Day: A woman's work is never done
International Women's Day is observed annually today, 8 March to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and across nations. HelpAge is contributing to this global celebration by raising awareness of the struggles faced by many older women across Africa: Poverty, poor health and living conditions and a lack of information on their rights and entitlements.
HIV and AIDS also has a huge impact on older women in Africa. They are often widowed by the illness or are stigmatised because of their status. They may have lost many of their children to HIV and AIDS related illnesses, resulting in them becoming the sole carer and provider for their orphaned grandchildren.
Daily struggles of older women
Kate Bush sang "a woman's work is never done" and my experience this week certainly reinforced just how true a statement that is. I was privileged enough to visit Siaya District, Kisumu (Western Kenya) to meet HelpAge Affiliate KESPA (Kenya Society for People with AIDS).
I was there to do marketing training and collect stories of four older women who had been part of the programmes delivered by the KESPA team. The interviews looked at the daily struggles the older women faced as they cared for orphaned grandchildren and how KESPA's work had helped them.
The four women we came to know over the next two days shared with us stories of incredible tragedy; sadness and misery but also strength, resilience and dignity even in the most dire situations.
All four women had lost children. One woman told of being "inherited" by her brother in law after becoming widowed. One told us of the struggle to educate her grandchildren due to the costs involved. And another spoke of the fear she felt as her last surviving son who suffers from mental illness put her out of her own home.
Invisible older women
It was a challenging couple of days and I personally struggled with the realisation that there are still so many women in similar situations who remain unknown to their government and to organisations like KESPA. These older women "disappear" from those who should be protecting them.
This week was probably the most difficult part of my placement so far. However, it was an incredible learning experience. The opportunity to see firsthand the challenges faced by older women in rural communities was great, as was the positive impact that HelpAge and KESPA are having in the community. However, there is also much more work needed to raise awareness of these issues.
Access to information about basic rights and entitlements; food security and social protection would empower and enable these women to continue to not only survive but provide good stable lives for their grandchildren.
International Women's Day photogallery
Read our news story about International Women's Day