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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Ghana: Witches' Will Suffer Victimisation
The Northern Regional Coordinator of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), ASP Emmanuel Holortu, has raised the alarm about the attempted disbandment and repatriation of the alleged witches into their original communities by the government.
He expressed fears that it would offer the opportunity for their accusers and other irate community members to further victimise them.
"If much education or sensitisation is not done in those communities before the alleged witches are sent there, once again, stay with those who accused, maimed, tortured and humiliated them, the possible result would be that government and the civil society organisations would rather pick body bags."
Speaking at a Capacity Building Workshop in Tamale for members of the Anti-witchcraft Allegation Campaign Coalition (AWACC), organised by the Grassroots Sisterhoods Foundation, the DOVVSU boss observed that "the alleged witches would be killed by the same people who banished them if the government rushes to integrate them into the society." It was under the theme: "Protecting women against witchcraft allegation is a civil responsibility: Witchcraft allegation is criminal."
"Those people still believe that the people they have accused and have gone to the camps are still witches, so they can easily kill them."
ASP Holortu advised the government and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) advocating for the disbandment of the witches camps, to also sensitise the alleged witches to understand that they did not specifically need to go back to their own communities to live their lives, but they could live peacefully in any other part of the country with a little support from government and the CSOs.
He said even though the issue of witchcraft accusation had been in existence for several decades now, there was the need for the victims to know that they had protection under the 1992 Constitution, and ought to report people who accuse them or unlawfully attack them for witchcraft to the police.
"Normally after beating, humiliating and being banished from the communities, the people end up stealing properties and burning houses and farms of the alleged witches, and all these things ought to be reported to the police."
The Executive Director of the Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation, Madam Fati Alhassan, in no uncertain terms, condemned the issue of witchcraft accusation and its accompanied humiliation, harassment, torture and killings.
She said witches and wizards were found everywhere in the world, and did not understand why the issue of witchcraft had become calamitous to people in Northern Region alone.
So far, there are seven witches camps found in Bonyase in the Central Gonja District, Gambaga in the East Mamprusi District, Gushegu in the Gushegu District, Kukuo in the Nanumba South District, Naboli in the Gushegu District, Gnani in the Yendi Municipality, and Kpatinga in the Gushegu District, all within the Northern Region.
According to Madam Alhassan, the issue of witchcraft accusation and the banishment had become an issue of "belief, spiritual and culture" of the people, and thus, there was the need for all stakeholders, including the government and the media, to do more sensitisation before talking about repatriating the alleged witches.
"It is very difficult to change people's belief. If it is a moral issue, it is different, but when it is about beliefs and spiritual issues, it is difficult to change. We need to put in place pragmatic measures to get the get the community members go along with us, because, we, on our own, did not banish them, it is the community that banished them, and receiving them back into the community will not be easy. So there is the need for us to do more education in the communities, the religious and traditional leaders, the youth, and even the security personnel who are supposed to protect these women but have their own beliefs."
The Executive Director of the Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation and a former media practitioner called on the media to also play their roles effectively, and support the various anti-witchcraft advocacy organisations to succeed.
The Northern Regional Population Officer, Naa Chief Alhassan Issahaku Amadu, in a Power Point presentation, described it as inhuman for anybody conceived, carried in the womb for nine months and nurtured by woman, to turn to accuse the same woman as being a witch, beat and humiliate for something the accuser cannot substantiate.
He noted with concern that the continuing celebration of witchcraft allegations in Northern Region was promoting poverty among households, since most of the alleged witches are always the breadwinners of their families.
According to Chief Alhassan, the witchcraft allegation also weakens the cohesiveness of social and family networks, increases the illiteracy and school dropout levels, and reduces the social value of most grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties and children.
Meanwhile, the labeling of some kinsmen and women as witches and wizards, and banishing them into camps where they live in inhuman and deplorable conditions, is a violation of their fundamental human rights, as it displaces them from their homes, breaks up their families, and also destroys their lives, because they are often humiliated, tortured, killed or expelled.
These women are Ghanaians, and are supposed to be protected under the Constitution of Ghana, but the reality is that they are completely enslaved by their own cherished families and communities.
They are often sent to the market square naked, where their accusers invite more hands to inflict deep pains and harassment on them. These suspected witches have no right to defend themselves or challenge their accusers.
The Chronicle is aware that convincing people of the spuriousness of superstitions, when those superstitions form a fundamental part of the very lens through which reality itself is experienced, is no mean feat.
Belief in witchcraft not only fills in the gap left by a lack of education and information, but can coexist with, and even underpin believers' informed understandings of issues. But there is still the need for stakeholders to keep the momentum, and gradually, Ghana would get to the envisaged destination where the issue of witchcraft accusation will become a thing of the past. The government ought to sensitise the public to know that accusing a woman of witchcraft violates Section 5 of Ghana's 1992 Constitution, which ensures human rights and makes cultural practice that dehumanises or injures the physical or mental health of a person illegal.
The Constitution also states that a person is not guilty of a crime until a court of competent jurisdiction proves otherwise.