Poor Countries Listen to Their Elderly Citizens; We Should Too

Kenya 2012

By Julia Manning

June 22, 2012

Also published at Daily Mail

The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, has given an interview to the New Statesman in which he essentially dismisses the views of the elderly.

He told the magazine that ‘every cohort is in favour of gay marriage apart from the over-65s'.

I hope he now sincerely regrets this implication. No matter what the subject, to imply that the over-65s are out of touch rather than a source of wisdom and sagacity is what you’d expect to hear from a rude teenager, not a Minister who has been a clear voice of reason in the debate on international aid.

It’s even more surprising when so when many of the countries that the Department for International Development (DfID) supports are those in which the elderly are rightly revered and respected. I am proud that Mr Mitchell and our Prime Minister have made such a strong and sincere statement of commitment to those people in other countries who through no fault of their own face a daily struggle for survival.

In the past few days I have been seeing for myself the life-changing impact of some of the money that we as a country donate to Kenya. For westerners it may be the land of safaris, but for many Kenyans who have no access to the clean water, electricity, healthcare or sewerage systems that we take for granted, every day is a challenging journey.

Millions of people live in slums. Malaria, TB and HIV are still the biggest killers. Kenya still has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. I have yet to talk to a child in a slum or in the countryside that has a single story book at home.

The statistics are shocking. Yet what has been so impressive to see are the huge number of projects that our small donations can fund and the extent to which DfID has both ensured that what they initiate works with the grain of Kenyan culture while challenging traditions which are morally unacceptable, and similarly their focus on governance and transparency of spending.

A prime example of this is DfID's for Gender Based Violence Recovery Centres which provide education on the deplorable tradition of men beating their wives, and support for the women who have suffered. In a society where most women are still the property of their husbands and fear seeking any formal help when they have been beaten or raped, the past few years have seen several initiatives to confront the culture.

The government have also run a campaign called ‘real men don’t beat their wives’ which has reportedly had a major impact, giving more women the confidence to speak out and seek help. There is a long way to go. When I asked a group of teachers about young girls of 12 or 13 who become pregnant and are expelled from school, there was a mixture of denial and indifference in the possibility of abuse, incest or coercion. I have spoken to elders who condemn the violent traditions but there are those of all ages who still support it.

The stories of corruption when it comes to international aid should not be ignored; but neither should the people who depend on that aid for their lives and their children’s lives, and neither should the voices of those older people who have a valuable perspective to bring.