Posted by: rumnet | July 1, 2012

Don’t Rushed Disbandment of Witches Camps

Don’t Rushed Disbandment of Witches Camps

DOVVSU, CSOs Warn Government

(Published in the July edition of the advocoate)

By Joseph Ziem

The Northern Regional Coordinator of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, ASP Emmanuel Holortu says even though the proposed disbandment of the six alleged witch camps in the region by government and other stakeholders is good, it will be disastrous if it is done in a hasty manner.

Hon. Juliana Azumah-Mensah, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs

According to him, it would be very difficult to ensure the safety of these aged women when they are reintegrated into the communities they originally hailed from, because they are likely to be lynched or killed by the same people who accused and chased them out of the communities.

Speaking at a day’s capacity building workshop in Tamale recently, ASP Holortu said that victims of witchcraft allegations need to be sensitized to understand that they don’t need to go back to their original communities to live normal lives, but could rely on support from government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to live anywhere in Ghana for their own safety and comfort.

Executive Director of Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation, Fati Alhassan, who also joined the call by the DOVVSU Coordinator, said there must be in place pragmatic measures to ensure that any disbandment of the camps become successful and not further worsen the plight of inmates or create problems for the country’s image locally and internationally.

She proposed serious sensitization of the communities, youth, religious and traditional leaders as well as the security agencies to understand that witchcraft allegations or accusations are criminal and anyone or group of persons who accuses someone of witchcraft should be made to face the full rigours of the law.

Madam Fati encouraged the media to join the crusade against witchcraft allegations by constantly reporting on such issues rather than focusing too much on political reporting which often spark insults and vilifications that were likely to jeopardize the peace and stability of the country.

The Gender Advocate and retired journalist also admonished women to be wary of people or in-laws who use witchcraft allegations to disinherit them of their late husband’s property. She advised them to always safeguard their inheritance first whenever such allegations crop up before they even think of clearing their name of the allegations leveled against them.

Under the theme: “Protecting Women Against Witchcraft Is a Civil Responsibility: Witchcraft Allegation Is Criminal”, the workshop was organised by Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) and Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation with funding from the African Women’s Development Fund.

It was organized for members of the Anti-Witchcraft Allegation Campaign Coalition (AWACC) and sought to sensitise the group, strengthen them, give them new dimension of the issues of witchcraft allegations and build cohesion amongst themselves as advocates to be able to reduce the incidence of witchcraft allegations.

It was also to identify ways by which the Coalition could support the alleged witches to make a living by collaborating with any organization, foreign mission or government to provide these women with livelihood support programmes.

AWACC was formed in the year 2000 by a number of local civil society organizations and individuals to contribute towards addressing the issue of witchcraft allegations. The Coalition is a local gender and human rights advocacy initiative made up of forty-three individuals, local NGOs, community based organisations and women groups based in the three regions of the North, Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions.

Its objectives among others, are to stop the false witchcraft accusations and human rights violations of victims, create awareness and sensitise the public at large of the inhuman treatment meted out to women accused of practicing witchcraft, create alliance with human rights and women’s rights organizations, to collate data and other information on the subject of witchcraft accusations, work with collaborators to get outcast women reintegrated into their homes, make witchcraft accusations issues a national issue and get legislators/policymakers to support the campaign and in the long run, abolish the camps/homes gradually.

Undisputedly, majority of Africans have strange beliefs that they associate with witchcraft, wizardry or sorcery. For instance, they belief witches and wizards fly in the night, walk upside down, eat human flesh, torture people out of envy, inflict people with incurable ailments, kill their enemies, turn to vampire bats, spark fire during night out, stall the progress of one’s business or academic performance, cause bareness, impotency, madness, among others.

The belief in witchcraft or wizardry is also widely known to exist in every indigenous Ghanaian community, and particularly deep-rooted in the Northern Region. The abhorrent attitude of most residents toward suspected witches and wizards has led to the creation of what many call witch camps. This is because, victims of witchcraft who are largely elderly women, face penalties such as lynching or banishing from their community members and relatives who out of sheer ignorance and unnecessary anger, accuse them of spiritually killing a relative or causing misfortunes in their families or communities.

Currently, there are six alleged witch camps dotted around remote communities in the Northern Region which serve as habitats or refuge to about four thousand aged women including their children and grandchildren. These camps include Gnani and Kpatinga (Yendi Municipality), Kukuo (Nanumba North District), Gambaga (East Mamprusi District), Bonyase (Central Gonja District) and Nabuli (Gushegu District).

These women and their children live in varying degrees of discomfort and penury. Some do not have access to safe drinking water and are compelled to walk miles in the blistering heat during the harmattan season to fetch water. Others perform hard labour in the fields of nearby villagers in exchange for a bowl of cereal or tubers of yam. Those who are fortunate, have families that cater for them and occasionally send them food. Others are neglected by their families and left to fend for themselves, or rely on the benevolence of neighbours and other NGOs that provide them with aid.

Zangbalun Bomahe-Naa Alhassan Issahaku Amadu – Northern Regional Population Officer, observed that the continuing celebration of witchcraft allegations in poverty-ridden Northern Ghana is further weakening the cohesiveness of social and family networks, increasing the illiteracy and school dropout levels, reducing the social value of grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties and children. “To whom much is given, much is expected. Our reward for women for us being born by women should be positive, not negative”, he preached.

According to him, more women are accused of witchcraft because they are feeble, deemed unpleasant (awkward in old age), socially less empowered, verbalization of nagging issues, socialized to accept what men decide, over dependency on men for livelihood, low level of education, less assertive, lack of power or ignorant to seek legal redress, among others.

Zangbalun Bomahe-Naa Alhassan proposed fostering quality female education, engaging women in key positions at the Local and Central Government levels, improving livelihood sources of women to reduce their “male dependency syndrome” as well as active involvement of women in other forms of decision making processes so as to deal with the phenomenon. Adding, he said “There must be judicious application of National laws and local traditional norms on witchcraft allegation and related issues whilst abolishing alleged witches’ camps and integrate the in-mates into the larger society.”

He also emphasised on community sensitizations/advocacy, community durbars, radio discussions and jingles, video shows, focus group discussions, media engagement, expanding and supporting existing anti-witchcraft coalitions, integration of issues of witchcraft allegation into the country’s educational curricular among others as a way of educating the populace on the phenomenon.

The Northern Regional Population Officer called on Ghanaians to desist from lynching people most especially women accused of witchcraft. “In fact, don’t accuse them. You have the moral obligation to prevent helpless women from being accused of witchcraft and treated badly”, he maintained.

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Responses

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