1. The Role of Social
BY: GABRIELLE SCHILLER
IASH SPRING 2016
A review of the power of elderly women headed households
within the context of HIV/AIDS and modernization in Nigeria
By 2050, Nigeria will be the world’s third largest country and the largest country in sub-Saharan
Africa. Moreover, Nigeria will experience significant population aging in terms of overall population
growth: Nigeria’s elderly population will reach 23.5 million (HelpAge International, 2015). While
many view population aging as one of the greatest achievements of mankind; however, in the
process, one population in particular is adversely affected by population aging - elderly women.
Elderly women are increasingly finding themselves isolated in rural villages without the traditional
support of their extended family networks, many of whom have migrated due to urbanization.
Population aging in Nigeria is also occurring against the backdrop of HIV/AIDS; Nigeria ranks
among the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS globally. Elderly grandmothers often assume
parental status for their grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS and lack the financial and social
capital to support members of the younger generation (i.e.: school fees, nutrition, access to
proper medical care, etc.).
This study provides a review of the research on population aging and intergenerational
relationships in Nigeria within the context of HIV/AIDS. It identifies key challenges and suggests
policy changes for consideration. Two major challenges identified include the need to strengthen
and increase social pensions schemes for elderly women caring for children orphaned by
HIV/AIDS and for Nigeria to build a comprehensive aging policy that prioritizes the sustainable
protection of elderly women.
This project draws on the existing literature on aging and policy
in both scholarly, governmental documents, and grey literature.
The discussion looks at policy responses in Nigeria as a case
example for the role of elderly grandmothers as caregivers
within the context of HIV/AIDS and population aging.
Policy information is interpreted from a feminist epistemology
standpoint as well as in keeping with the United Nation’s
Sustainable Development Goals for a post-2015 world.
In this project, older persons are defined as those over the age
of 60, as defined by the United Nations (UN, 2013).
4. Literature Review
a. Lack of comprehensive aging policy. Thus far, Nigeria has yet to
establish a comprehensive framework on population aging (Asagba,
2005). This absence of policy leads to the further marginalization of
elderly women and the orphans that they care for.
b. Social pension schemes. To date there are only two social pension
schemes in Nigeria - in Ekiti and Osun states - and only 5% of the
population receives pension benefits (predominantly men) (Dorfman,
c. Modernization. The traditional support provided by the younger
generation is being increasingly eroded by a growing emphasis on
materialism and individualism (Oluwabamide & Eghafona, 2012).
Moreover, aunts and uncles who previously would have constituted the
‘safety net’ in Nigeria are migrating to urban centers or developed
countries, and can no longer assume care of children orphaned by
HIV/AIDS (Foster, 2002).
5. Nigeria: Country Profile
• Population: 177.5 million (World Bank, 2014)
• Life expectancy at birth (male/female): 54/55 years (World
Health Organization, 2015)
• Infant mortality rate: 69 deaths per 1,000 live births (World
• HIV/AIDS Prevalence: 3.34% (3.2 million) (Bashorun, 2014)
• Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS: 930,000
• Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of
population): 46% (World Bank, 2014)
6. Social Transfers
• Social transfers consist of individual goods and services
provided as transfers in kind to individual households by
government units and non-profit institutions serving households
(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,
• In Care of the Poor (COPE): First implemented in 2007 in
Nigeria, COPE is designed to halt the intergenerational transfer of
poverty and to provide society’s most poor with better
opportunities. However, to date COPE only reaches 0.01% of
Nigeria’s entire population, and it also has stipulations, such as
enrollment in school (Holmes & Samson, 2012).
• NGOs and the international community also provide a source of
9. Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015
10. –Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002
“The potential of older persons is a powerful basis for future
development.This enables society to rely increasingly on the skills,
experience and wisdom of older persons, not only to take the lead in
their own betterment but also to participate actively in that of society as
“Countries with an ageing population need policy responses to support
the elderly so as to remove barriers to their full participation in society
protecting their rights and dignity.”
– U.N. Secretary-General, 2015
“Ageing is a triumph of development: People are living longer because of
better nutrition, sanitation, health care, education and economic well-being.
Although an ageing world poses social and economic challenges, the right
set of policies can equip individuals, families and societies to address these
challenges and to reap its benefits.”
– United Nations Population Fund, 2015
• Disaggregated Data. All policy changes must be made with
the knowledge of how many people are affected, in what
region, and who will most benefit from services. It is
recommended that funding should be allocated towards
population studies throughout Nigeria.
• Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR).
Actively involving community members - in this case elderly
women - will “help improve health outcomes and eliminate
health disparities.” (University of Washington, 2013)
• Social Transfers. Build upon existing programs (i.e. COPE),
eliminate stipulations, and build a framework that accounts for
the role of elderly female headed households.
Over the course of the twenty-first century, Africa will experience immense population
aging; much of this population aging will be attributed to Nigeria, which will surpass the
United States as the third largest country in the world by 2050 (UN Population Fund,
2015). Typically viewed as a ‘young’ country, Nigeria’s demographic changes will
require coherent policy measures. Traditionally, throughout Africa, the extended family
network provided a ‘safety net’ for financial and emotional troubles; this safety net has
found itself increasingly eroded within the context of high rates of morbidity and
mortality attached to HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. In keeping with the UN’s Sustainable
Development Goals, it is crucial for development to engage and support all individuals
at all phases of life and encourage them to participate fully in society. Despite
population changes, Nigeria still lacks a comprehensive aging policy. As Nigeria’s
population grows at all levels, current strains will persist - including HIV/AIDS and
chronic poverty among female-headed households - and Nigerian policymakers would
be remiss to not account for the role of elderly grandmothers within the context of
HIV/AIDS and population aging. Furthermore, it is in the best interest of the state to
provide this support, as the younger generation will have better opportunities and
contribute to the betterment of society.
I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to Dr.
Titilayo Okoror for being my mentor for this project and a
source of never-ending support; to the IASH program for
providing me with this opportunity; and to Dr. Diana
Gildea for teaching our course and for providing
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