Research and capacity building for communities of people on genders and sexualities, human rights, justice & peace.
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Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Power in Southern Africa: the KhoeSan



In Southern Africa the KhoeSan face similar challenges to other First Nations people elsewhere: excessively high rates of gender violence, substance abuse (especially alcoholism), poverty, unemployment, high rates of HIV&AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and other health and social issues. In Southern Africa specifically, there are high rates of infant and child rape specifically, as well as other forms of gender violence, such as rape and domestic violence.

Today decision making and leadership structures in the KhoeSan communities are dominated by men and reflect the internalised values of over 300 years of patriarchy and economic inequality. The existing male dominated decision making and leadership structures often lack management and financial skills. Funds being given specifically to support these communities are frequently misappropriated and fail to contribute to development in general, and to improve the structural conditions of children and women specifically.

Women do not have the necessary access to claim their basic human rights. Increasing the capacity of KhoeSan women’s participation in decision making and in leadership would be a significant first step towards broader community development, as well as to transform leadership structures to be gender representative, as well as more accountable and transparent.


This project proposes, in close consultation with local KhoeSan communities, to embark on strategic interventions that are two-fold:

(1) To develop female participation and leadership through capacity building and empowerment which is built on indigenous knowledge systems reflecting values of participation, gender equity, respect, non-violence and consensus building.

(2) To provide groundbreaking documentation of the contribution of women to the collective narrative history of the KhoeSan and to produce an accessible publication. This can be used by especially community members and policy makers to effect meaningful policy and structural changes.


Phase 1: Research and Capacity Building

Timeline: February 2007 – December 2007

This phase will focus on strategic interventions in the following areas: Gender and the development of women’s leadership, addressing Gender Violence, Human Rights, HIV&AIDS and other identified community issues. This will take the form of focus groups and workshops, developed in close consultation with local communities.

Phase 2: Documentation and Advocacy

Timeline: January 2008 - December 2008

This phase will entail recording women’s narratives of their own participation, contribution and strengths. This will serve as a positive model to empower women and girls specifically, and communities in general, to reclaim their own power and rights, and significantly develop women’s leadership and position as powerful role-models. These narratives will be recorded in the focus groups and workshops held, as well as through individual interviews with especially senior or elder KhoeSan women.

Advocacy is a critical part of the entire project. Planned exchanges of information, following the initial project, will benefit many different communities through cross-cultural and other forms of communication. Indigenous communities in the three separate nation-states will be encouraged and supported to hold large gatherings together and engage in various exchanges, and be supported to improve dialogues with their respective governments.




No doubt … the situation in the Andriesvale-Askham area needs the drastic attention of all spheres of government and all stakeholders. We hope this inquiry [conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission] will be the start of the journey towards the realisation of human rights and sustainable development in the Khomani San community

Edwin Tshivhidzo and Tumie Modisane, Doing Right by the Khomani San, 8 March 2005




What we found was a community fast losing hope, which often lacked the means and the ability to function and survive in a world so very different from that to which it is accustomed… [It is] a sad story of neglect and of indifference

Jody Kollapen, Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, Launch of their Report on the Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in the Khomani San Community in South Africa




They drink a lot of alcohol -- some of them start drinking at an early age of 14 years. And sometimes when the male relatives return home drunk at night, they go into the girls' thatched huts and abuse them… We tell the girls to go and report to the community leaders.

Eliot Ndlovu, activist in the community





The children of the KhoeSan have suffered enough. I fail to see why they should be confronted with an unusable past even in their history books. They should in school, as they do at home, learn to be proud of themselves, who they are and where they have come from.

Yvette Abrahams





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