Witches of the North: Tragic story of torture, lynching (Ghana)

 Modern Ghana News, 12 Nov. 2002

Travelling through the Northern Region of Ghana is a surprising phenomenon: apart from hundreds of ordinary communities, villages and towns that are scattered there are some locations people would not refer to as ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ known as ‘witch-camps’, or to use a neutral term, outcast homes. They house mostly women. Women that live on the outcast homes were forced out of their communities and accused of practicing ‘witchcraft’. They therefore seek refuge at these Homes. They cannot return home.

Many of the women deny they have used witchcraft. One can identify a pattern of the allegations, the accused women are more elderly than young, more deformed than healthy, more poor than rich, more barren than fertile, more outspoken than conforming with traditional roles, more peculiar in their behaviour they display because of their old age or sickness. Some are widowed. Basically, women like Zenatu Ibrahim, Rukaya Abukari and Lariba Mohammed are easy targets. They stand for many, even countless women in the North of Ghana that are frequently exposed to witchcraft allegations. Many of the accused never make it to the outcast homes. They are tortured, lynched and killed in their communities by members of their respective communities. To some they might be even related. The cultural belief in witchcraft is shaping the minds of the people in Northern Ghana. These traditional beliefs foster the ill treatment of the accused women. This treatment is a violation of basic human rights and freedoms. On the other hand, there are women who have been accused and can still remain in their communities because they do receive the necessary protection of their immediate family members. This clearly indicates than an accusation must not be necessarily fatal for the accused persons. Their fate does very much depend on the intervention of their social context. To stop these harmful practices and to encourage people to intervene on behalf of the accused women, a new initiative, the Anti Witchcraft Allegation Campaign has taken off. The Anti Witchcraft Allegation Campaign does not want to tackle the belief in witchcraft as such. It focuses on an amelioration of the situation of women that are accused. There has been considerable public attention to some of the four existing outcast homes in the Northern Region during the past years. It is now time that concerns are transferred into activities on the grassroots’ level. The illiterate population, which is the main source as well as a target of these allegations, has been neglected in the discourse so far. The Anti Witchcraft Allegation Campaign intends to fill this gap. It aims to particularly address the illiterate population in the remote communities that find themselves especially prone to these harmful practices. Sensitisation on the grassroot will be done by the use of educational materials that were especially worked out for the illiterate population. The campaigners will make use of the designed posters; their activities will be supported by radio jingles being broadcast in several local languages and radio drama. German Development Service’s (DED) partner organizations and every organization that is interested can take up the issues in line with their work in the field. DED’s work on the issue of outcast women began in 2000 when its NGO and Self Help Initiative (SHI) support programme supported two NGO’s that provided assistance to outcast women to improve the standard of living of the inmates of the outcast homes, with the provision of basic infrastructure, food security and micro credit. However, this of course did not contribute to prevent these current harmful cultural practices as such. It was noticed that the fieldworkers working in the outcast homes did lack the necessary support of educational tools that would help them to support their reintegration activities for women that are banned in the outcast homes. Therefore DED’s NGO and SHI support program started an initiative and brought together its partner-organisations that showed interest in reconciling a harmful cultural practice with development work, a process DED was happy to facilitate. During Alliance Workshops, real life educational materials like posters and radio jingles have been prepared. Some more NGOs got interested in the initiative, which has developed into the current joint campaign. Currently, interested partner organizations of German Development Service, DED, are receiving sensitization trainings for their staff. These sensitization training will enable the staff of the respective NGOs to bring this message down to the grassroots: killing and lynching of women accused of witchcraft is a crime. The Anti Witchcraft Allegation Campaign is not a close shop. All interested organizations are encouraged and invited to take part in this advocacy work, provided they are interested in supporting an educational campaign, that offers alternative information, that intends to reduce the social space given to witchcraft allegations and that strives to allow women in Northern Ghana to live free of fear. This is an Anit Witchcraft Allegation Campaign – Join Us!
ALMUTH SCHAUBER is a member of the Anti-Witchcraft allegation Campaign in Northern Ghana which worked closely with the Tamale Office of ISODEC

 

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