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Gender, aging and power in sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and puzzles

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Abstract

By 2020, the absolute numbers of elderly in Africa will increase dramatically. A majority of these will be women. While we know much about the powers and authority of male elders within formal kin- and age-based structures, we know little about the lived experience of aging in Africa today, and even less about the formal and informal roles of elderly women. These ethnographic descriptions of gendered aging experiences in seven African societies examine the following little explored topics: indigenous conceptions of gender and aging; the ambiguities in women's social positions; changing family, household and marital relationships, which affect experiences of old age; older persons' access to and control over material, human and suprahuman resources; and the interplay of indigenous and modern forces. They point to future research challenges that will include understanding indigenous notions of gender and aging, and power and personhood, as they relate to personal experiences and to the ability of older women and men to assure their security in contexts of rapid social change.

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Udvardy, M., Cattell, M. Gender, aging and power in sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and puzzles. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 7, 275–288 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01848695

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Key Words

  • gender
  • aging
  • power
  • personhood
  • Africa
  • intergenerational relationships
  • modernization
  • social change