The San in southern Africa are often described as the very first people in history. They have a proud history stretching some three million years back. But in a modern, changing world, there is often little respect for ancient traditions and culture, with social challenges as a result. Maria Garises in the small Namibian village Drimiopsis is working to change that.
”I used to be a very typical San women; shy and submissive towards men. I have been beaten and raped when I was younger, and I have been forced into destructive relationships. As little girls, we are taught to be quiet and do as we are told. That’s the only thing we know. As if being San isn’t bad enough these days, being a San woman in a highly patriarchal and racist society makes things even more difficult.
There is a widespread contempt towards San. Many people despise our culture and way of life. They think we are primitive. And since we, as San, can’t get proper education in our mother tongue, many – including myself – drop out of school, having been bullied or even beaten along the way. It’s a downward spiral leading to unemployment, poverty, drug use and physical abuse – even amongst ourselves.
Today, I have realised that all of this is not normal. I have started working for an organisation promoting women’s rights and through that I have found meaning in my life. Our main target group is young girls. We teach them to be proud, independent human beings and that we can make a change if we stand up for each other and our rights.
We still have a long way to go, but I feel that things are starting to happen. Perhaps the most important thing is that men slowly start to listen to women. They realise that we stand united and they understand that we won’t tolerate abuse. That, I think, leads to respect and hopefully a better situation for everyone.”