Policy And Practical Implications
What can be done? Clearly, poverty must be alleviated, gender justice must be achieved, and solutions to African problems must take an indigenous approach. Family-oriented policies and community-based initiatives offer feasible alternatives to the prohibitive cost of state interventions and the infrastructural constraints of rural areas where most elders live. Action-oriented participatory research will empower older Africans as they express their needs and envision solutions based on African social and cultural strengths.
Families will no doubt remain the basic resource for elders (as is the case throughout the world). Hence, it makes sense to target families for services to older persons, for example, by strengthening the resources of women, the traditional caregivers. Programs supporting the productive activities of women and elders—such as literacy and vocational education, rural cooperatives, small-scale village industries, and small loans to fund microenterprises—would benefit all family members. Such interventions would expand the impact of existing self-help and mutual aid groups, such as rotating credit associations and work groups. More extensive rural development, including improved employment opportunities, technical support, and service infrastructure, could induce more younger people to remain in their rural homes and could also benefit older persons, both economically and by having their relatives near.
Limited resources for medically based health care in Africa have led to an emphasis on community-based primary health care. Locally trained community health workers could provide nutrition and preventive-care education for older persons, especially women, thus benefiting all family members, given the involvement of women in feeding and caring for family members. In addition, indigenous healing practices and medications need consideration, especially as many Africans consult local practitioners instead of, or in addition to, going to doctors and hospitals.
Finally, policies and laws (including African customary laws) aimed at achieving gender justice would break the cycles of discrimination against women in their rights to land, property, and their children—and in access to knowledge and legal advice. These cycles have made African women of all ages especially vulnerable to poverty and violence. As with other problems of African elders, solutions need to be aimed not solely at older people, but at improving the situation of women, families, and communities and achieving economic development for all. Such improvements will enable older people to continue their self-support and substantial contributions to their families, and will enable families to give their elders adequate support and care. The situation of Africa, and African elders, is grim but not hopeless. Africans are resilient, creative, hardworking people with many social and cultural resources to call upon in changing things for the better.
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