A letter to you from Namibia

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When I was asked to write for this special anniversary edition of Bazaar, I imagined a female reader of the magazine 150 years ago, in 1867. If she’d been able to see us today’s women what would she have made of us?
Bazaar was first published in America just two years after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. It was a world without cars, modern anti­biotics, or electric lighting. Most people did not live beyond their 50th birthday, and it was still common for women to die in childbirth.

As a woman, for much of the 19th century in most Western countries, you couldn’t go to university, and entire professions, like medicine, science, and law, were closed to you. You couldn’t vote and wouldn’t win that right in many countries for more than half a century.

So I imagine that if that reader of Bazaar could see us now, she would be astonished. And since she probably argued for women’s rights in her lifetime, I imagine she’d be thankful.

But I also wonder what that 19th-century woman would make of the inequality that still exists for tens of millions of women and girls around the world such as the ones who have to go to work instead of school because they support their families.

I read recently that the World Economic Forum predicted that it will take 83 years for the gaps in rights and opportunities between women and men to close in all countries. This is not about progress for women at the expense of men, but about finding an equal balance that benefits everyone.

My mother, who was part Iroquois Indian on her father’s side, taught me the Iroquois saying that we should consider the impact of our decisions upon the next seven generations. It is hard for us to be that thoughtful, with all the pressures in our lives, but it seems to me to be a beautiful aspiration.

The photos [accompanying] this piece were shot at a nature reserve in Namibia’s Namib Desert. The reserve is run by the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, led by my friends Marlice and Rudie van Vuuren. Our daughter Shiloh was born in Namibia, and our family has worked with Rudie and Marlice on conservation in that country over the past decade. For me, Namibia represents not only ties of family and friendship but also the effort to find the balance between humans and the environment so crucial to our future.

The N/a’an ku sê Foundation works with Namibia’s San people, who are considered to be the world’s oldest culture. They represent thousands of years of man and wildlife coexisting in harmony, but they have suffered, like other indigenous peoples, from being forced off their lands by farming, unchecked development, and the depletion of wildlife. The destruction of natural habitat and wildlife has left the San people unable to hunt and support their families.

The same thing is happening all across the globe in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific and women are often the most affected. Women make up most of the world’s poor. It often falls on them to find food, water, and fuel to cook for their families. When the environment is damaged for example, when fishing stocks are destroyed, wildlife is killed by poachers, or tropical forests are bulldozed it deepens their poverty. Women’s education and health are the first things to suffer. The environment is also a crucial factor in future global stability, with 21.5 million people displaced worldwide by climate change every year, as part of the more than 65 million people displaced in total.

N/a’an ku sê works to preserve the natural habitat and to protect endangered species, such as elephants, rhinos, and cheetahs, like the ones pictured in this story. I first encountered them in 2015, when they were small cubs and our family sponsored them. They’d been orphaned, and nearly died. They were nursed back to health, but they cannot be returned to the wild, as they have lost their fear of humans and could be killed if they stray onto farmland. With cheetah numbers plummeting to fewer than 7 100 worldwide, the mission is to save every animal possible.
These cheetahs are not pets, nor should any wild animal ever be kept as one. They inspire us to help preserve these unique, majestic creatures in the wild, as just one of many steps to preserve the environment for future generations.

Each of us has the power to make an impact through our everyday choices. For instance, we can commit to never buying illegal wildlife products such as ivory or rhino horn.

Fashion was once a major factor in encouraging the demand for clothes, jewellery, and objects made from wildlife parts. But magazines can now send a different message: that wild animals belong in the wild, and that ivory is not beautiful unless on the tusk of a living animal.

What we do, each in our own small way, matters. The hopeful thought is that it is in our hands. Over the next 150 years, technology is going to give us more and better means of communicating, fighting poverty, defending human rights, and caring for the environment. But it is what we choose to do with the freedom we have that will make all the difference. If my life experience has taught me anything, it is that what you stand for, and what you choose to stand against, is what defines you. As the San people say, “You are never lost if you can see your path to the horizon.”

* This is a shortened version of the piece written by actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie as part of Harper’s Bazaar 150th anniversary. The story was taken from Harper’s Bazaar website (http://www.harpersbazaar.com).

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