16 November 2012

Namibia: Khwe Women Talk of Social, Economic Exclusion in Namibia

THE picture emerging from a women’s voices project this week is that young Khwe women at Omega – from the subgroup of the Khoesan – have remained on the margins of society, with little or no access to government services and virtually no chance of gainful employment.

The project is run by the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC), which says that Khwe women historically belonged to an egalitarian culture that gave them respect, power and autonomy.

But with encroaching cultures through migrational influx from other parts of Africa, colonialism and apartheid, the Khwe, as with most San groups, have lost their land, resources and livelihoods as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Moreover, patriarchal values, institutions and laws of African settlers and European and South African colonisers and their military, as well as Christianisation, have adversely impacted on egalitarian and sustainable dynamics on the Khwe which led to their loss of culture and individual identity.

WLC is of the opinion that reconciliation and restitution processes since independence have for all intents and purposes excluded the Khwe whose traditional leaders are not recognised by the government.

Many of the Khwe live in the Bwabwata National Park, but they are not allowed to hunt or gather in core areas of the park.

They have few employment opportunities; most are unemployed.

The young women reported that many of their grandmothers do not have identity documents and are not registered to receive pensions. They have to travel to Katima Mulilo to get registered, which for most is a costly enterprise.

They say the language barrier makes them unable to access State services, and they are humiliated and mocked when they speak their own language.

Because of the economic marginalisation of young women, parents coerce them to marry early. This is presumed to be one of the reasons why the rate of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts is so high among the Khwe, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and exclusion.

The group lamented the fact that Khwe children are not taught in their mother tongue in the formal education system.

There are a few pre-primary schools that teach in Khwedam. All Khwe children are taught in Thimbukushu and English from Grade 1.

But many Khwe children do not get to school because their parents cannot afford school fees or uniforms.

Most schools available to Khwe children do not have Khwe teachers, who could be important role models.

The women further reported that preventable diseases like tuberculosis ravage the community, while there is a high rate of maternal and child mortality due to poor access to health facilities.

Alcohol addiction is prevalent among young and old, women and men, which the WLC said indicates a deep level of despair.

The prevalence of violence against women is also high and it mostly remains unreported.

The women want comprehensive research on the situation of women in the Khwe society, active promotion of respect and the strengthening of positive indigenous identities, and increased access to culturally sensitive education at all levels.

They also want the provision of relevant vocational and life skills education, as well as financial and technical support.

Moreover, they demand that the government give them greater access to justice, health, information and other services.

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