Women rally for African cause

To commemorate International Women’s Day today (March 8), Majellan reports on a group of Melbourne women who got together to support grandmothers in Africa whose families were torn apart by HIV/AIDS.


Children growing up in Africa without parents because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic so distressed one group of grandmothers they decided to act. A group of retired Melbourne women formed ‘The Bayside Grannies’. Their quest was to support African grandmothers who have watched their children tragically die from the HIV/AIDS.


Bayside Grannies President Judith Carter said, “I watched a program depicting the plight of grandmothers in Africa who after burying their adult children whilst dealing with their own grief, stepped up to become the sole carers for not only their own traumatised grandchildren but for many others who were left orphaned and alone,” she said. 


“This program affected me deeply. I simply could not stop thinking about it. I have 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. I look at them and see all the opportunities they have simply because they were born in Australia: education, access to fresh water, medical treatment, good food, a safe environment to live in not to mention a roof over their heads with all the comforts of a modern society in the 21st century.


“In contrast, those born in Africa are living with a HIV/AIDS pandemic, surviving in abject poverty, where young girls and older women are raped, violated, starved and can have their humble homes taken from them by powerful male relatives. They do not have access to medical treatment or education.”


Mrs Carter said the contrast between Australia and Africa was “overwhelming”. “I spoke to my book club about it and put forward the idea of forming a group,” she said. “I was determined to get the ball rolling and we agreed to meet on the first Tuesday of each month and plan some fundraising activities.


“Those who can’t attend meetings but would still like to be involved are called ‘grandothers’. My daughters, granddaughters and friends in such a position have joined and help out at fund-raising events.


“Last year we held a Christmas in July garage sale and one of our members completed a bike ride in France for The Bayside Grannies, collecting money from sponsors. All funds go to community-based organisations reaching villages at the grass roots level and empowering women of all ages to regain control over their lives. 


“The approach is a holistic one providing education, psychological counselling, crop growing to provide food, enabling the grandmothers to band together to approach their government officials to seek justice for crimes committed against them.”


The bayside group has joined groups in Canada who first started ‘The Grandmother to Grandmother Campaign’ in 2006, followed by the UK and USA. 


“Although’ The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign’ is only just starting here in Australia, we hope that The Bayside Grannies along with other groups in Victoria and in different states across Australia, have ignited a small flame which will turn into a raging fire, igniting awareness and concern for the plight of our ‘sister’ grandmothers in Africa,” Mrs Carter added. 


To help raise funds for African grandmothers a book by Ilana Landsberg-Lewis and Joanna Henry, ‘Powered by Love’ about the AIDS crisis is available from major bookstores. All royalties from the book are being sent to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support organisations run by and for African grandmothers who are raising children orphaned by AIDS.


Co-founder Stephen Lewis was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006. More details are available at:



Feature image: The Bayside Grannies are Gemma Schooneveldt (left), Judith Carter (middle) and Ann Lynch.


Footnote: This International Women’s Day is being held today. This year’s theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.


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