Looking Up to Grandmothers As Catalysts for Cultural Change

2-40 Hawa Balde w grp kids copyAfter three decades of working with several development programs around the world, community health specialist Judi Aubel found there was a missing link preventing long-lasting cultural change: the lack of focus on grandmothers.

Aubel began The Grandmother Project in 2005 with the clear goal of training female elders to become catalysts for positive social change.

Inspired by the work of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, the American social activist designed an empowerment model to strengthen grandmothers’ roles within communities and include them in the discussion of pressing human rights and social issues such as female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy, child marriage, girl’s education and healthcare, among others.

«Women empowerment programs often focus on the individual and women and girls not on the power of lineage,» Executive Director Aubel said.

By developing intergenerational community programs in countries such as Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Albania and Laos, the growing social enterprise is helping address the root of gender violence and inequality in developing countries where the extended family is more important than the nuclear one.

«Across more traditional non-Western cultures, more collectivist cultures of the Global South the family is more important than it is in the North comparatively.  For the Global South, it is the extended family that is important so elders are being traditionally and, still in many cases, seen as very important,» Executive Director Judi Aubel said.


The reasoning behind this solution is a powerful one.

Since most harmful practices against women and girls are a by-product of cultural traditions and norms passed over generations, inviting grandmothers to rethink these inherited approaches, come up with their own conclusions and build collective consensus for change.

Building on her knowledge and years of experience in the international development sector, the 2012 Ashoka Fellow wanted to create a sustainable model that could distance itself from the band-aid solutions and white savior initiatives that she often saw take place on the ground.

«Most programs start by thinking what values we need to change rather than what kind of positive values (already on the communities) will be valuable to build and strengthen», she said.

Over 800 grandmothers have participated in The Grandmother Project and the former PeaceCorps volunteer and her team in Senegal are already working on seeing how to share this approach to other countries in Africa and the world and involving men too in the process.

According to Aubel, so far grandfathers and men within families have been very supportive to the change instilled by these trainings, «they are very proud to see that grandmothers are recognized and acknowledged».

You can learn more about The Grandmother Project click here: http://grandmotherproject.org/

Photos Credits: Flore DePreneuf, The Grandmother Project

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