This issue of Agenda focusing on gender, ageing and intergenerationality, addresses a gap that has existed in social policy and research. Its intention is to investigate and reveal the human and gendered dimensions of ageing and not see age solely as a research cohort. The neglect of the conditions of material existence, the social invisibility and marginalisation of ageing groups of women and men further contribute to the necessity of the social investigation of this subject.

Age is a complex social construction, mediated by culture and power relations in intersection with race, class and gender. The guest editors, Vasu Reddy and Nadia Sanger, draw attention to how ageing and intergenerationality can be seen not as static, but as relational, across life times and even eras. They also indicate that ageing does not, nor should imply a terminal point in matters of the life course, but rather a facet of life that has much potential for change and positive development.

This issue draws together a diverse collection of research contributions. Bozalek and Hoyman discuss the meaning of a critical ethics of care and feminist gerontology in the different contexts of South Africa and North America. Their Article highlights that elderly women who are supposed to be the receivers of care, are often the main providers of care for poor households and that this gender bias has resulted in the exploitation of women’s care work. Turning to the question of how the elderly are differently situated in statistical data disaggregated by race, gender and age, Monde Makiwane, Catherine Ndinda and Hannah Botsis reveal a profile of an elderly South African population in which the long-term effects of the apartheid era policies are very clearly imprinted.

Three contributions from writers in other countries on the African continent in this issue provide a welcome perspective on the diverse contexts across which ageing and intergenerationality can be understood. Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin in her Briefing employs urban planning in Nigeria to explain how neo-liberalism and cuts in social spending affect elderly women, comparing the lives of women in poor and middle class communities. The provision of care to the sick and orphaned in the AIDS epidemic by elderly women is taken-up by Nompumelelo Thabethe and Lucy Chioma Usen who report on research in Nigeria and South Africa with elderly care-givers. In their piece, Manase Kudzai Chiweshe and Mandida Gusha focus on gender and ageing during the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, highlighting how informal networks can fail as a social strategy for taking care of the elderly during a time of social and economic disintegration.

Anna Versfeld’s Article draws on ethnographic research to explore the importance of social capital and the achievement of ‘positive personhood’ by women in the poor working-class community of Manenberg in Cape Town. For her part, Nolwazi Mkhwanazi argues that intergenerational discourse plays an important part in shaping younger women’s self-perception and their lifelong decisions. Like Versfeld, Mkhwanazi points to the importance of agency, support and encouragement for young women to make choices in their own self-interest and to overcome the oppressive conditions that confront them as a result of the patriarchy that, as she elaborates, can be seen to have exerted pressure across successive generations.

While intergenerational sex is recorded as being responsible for a high percentage of HIV infections among young women, any current discussion of gender equality and age would not be complete without reference to the social problem of ‘sugar daddies’. In the Open Forum in this issue, Pierre Brouard and Mary Crewe critique the Department of Health’s campaign to stop ‘sugar daddies’. They argue that the campaign’s positioning problematically overlooks widely practiced forms of male sexual patronage, creating a moral panic which comes at the expense of young girl’s vulnerability and disempowerment. Tamara Shefer and Anna Strebel, in their Focus, reviewing recent research on men, masculinities and sugar daddies, question the value of research that may contribute to entrenching stereotyped ways of representing both older men’s and young women’s motives and reasons for engaging in intergenerational sex. Yasmin Lalani’s research in a town in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, describes how sex workers’ advocacy has resulted in AIDS prevention work since sex tourism has increased the exposure of the local population to the dangers of HIV infection.

Gloria Chepngeno-Langat and Victoria Hosegood explore the much neglected subject of ageing and sexuality in this issue. Their Briefing reflects how ageing is gendered in specific ways that are often embedded in cultural practices and religion, particularly in relation to childbearing. They point to how women’s gender and sexual identity changes after childbearing age, but that this change is often understood as desexualised and older women’s expression of sexuality is treated as inappropriate or ridiculed.

Gabrielle Le Roux’s portrait series “Living Ancestors” introduces a welcome visual dimension to this issue. In the interview with Nadia Sanger, Le Roux explains the reasons behind the feminist project of drawing elder women in the Dominican Republic. Socially unrecognised, the women she has depicted are survivors of the slave trade from Africa to the West Indies. Vasu Reddy’s interview with Hannah Yilma, offers us a glimpse of what it was like to grow up as a girl in Ethiopia in a politically high profile family, living in several countries, often in exile.

Agenda is indebted to Vasu Reddy and Nadia Sanger, the guest editors, for their contribution to the publication of this special issue of Agenda.