Themes: Violence, harmful traditional practices, gender-based violence, economic factors
In at least 36 countries, many of which are in Africa, people continue to be persecuted due to accusations of witchcraft. Women make up the majority of those targeted, although other groups, including albinos, children and sometimes men, are also victims. In 2014, 700 women were killed following accusations of witchcraft in Tanzania alone.
Yvette Valérie Banlog, the founder of an NGO working in 6 Central African states reports that women accused of witchcraft are usually elderly. Eighty percent of the women are widows and have no children living close by. Women whose appearance is ‘unappealing’ as a result of hunger, disease, disfigurement or a disability are the main targets, with most charges being made in rural villages. These women are considered a burden.
“How can someone like me be sitting in her house and you come to tell me I have spiritual powers? I don’t know anything. I only recite my Quran every day.” says Hajia Barichisu, a 60 year old woman from Poloyafong district in northern Ghana where many women have been accused of practicing witchcraft. Fortunately, Hajia’s children were with her. Her accusers wanted her to confess but her children refused to bring her out. Gunfire then erupted.
Although elderly women are worst affected, children and young women are also at risk. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children who have been raped or born out of wedlock are sometimes labelled “children of witchcraft” and rejected by their families. There is also a growing trend of accusations against young women when their husbands die. Young women who defy social norms by being financially independent, demanding the right to speak freely, choose a spouse, plan pregnancies and be active outside of the home are most likely to be accused. In the context of increasing pressures on land, accusations of witchcraft form a means for in-laws to recover the property of the husband who died.
AWID – “Witchcraft accusations perpetuate women’s oppression in Sub-Saharan Africa”
Deutsche Welle – “Witch hunts: A global problem in the 21st century”
Deutsche Welle – “Ghana: witchcraft accusations put lives at risk”