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Invisible in Plain Sight? Grandfathers Caring for Orphaned Grandchildren in Rural Malawi

Lazaro, Mayeso Chinseu; Walker, Liz; Robson, Elsbeth


Mayeso Chinseu Lazaro


Millions of orphans, created by parental deaths due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, live with, and are cared for, by grandparents. Little research has considered how grandparents and, in particular, grandfathers, are caring for orphans. Here, we employ the analytical concept of generative grandfathering to analyse rural grandfathers’ roles in orphan care within communities of Zomba District, Southern Malawi. Using an ethnographic approach to investigate orphan care, we engaged children, young people and adults in multiple qualitative research activities, including interviews, focus group discussions, stakeholder and dissemination meetings. The findings suggest that although grandfathers’ contributions to orphan care are on the periphery of research and policy concerned with grandparenting in Malawi and other regions of sub-Saharan Africa, grandfathers are incontrovertibly at the epicentre of their orphaned grandchildren’s everyday lives. Grandfathers are providers for their orphaned grandchildren, they support their formal education, and are integral to the intergenerational transmission of both knowledge and values. However, despite performing myriad caring roles in plain sight of their communities, grandfathers remain largely invisible due to gendered (mis)conceptions of care. This highlights the dilemma of grandfathers as ageing men who find themselves in roles not traditionally associated with hegemonic notions of masculinity in their communities.


Lazaro, M. C., Walker, L., & Robson, E. (in press). Invisible in Plain Sight? Grandfathers Caring for Orphaned Grandchildren in Rural Malawi. African Studies,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 20, 2022
Online Publication Date Jun 5, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 18, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 26, 2023
Journal African Studies
Print ISSN 0002-0184
Electronic ISSN 1469-2872
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Care; Ethnographic research; Gender; Generative grandfathering; Grandfathers; HIV/AIDS; Orphans; Poverty; Sub-Saharan Africa; Rural Malawi
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Copyright Statement
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
(, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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