product of my past

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Witches. By virtue of being women

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In the 100 years since more than one million women took to the streets, honouring the first International Women’s Day and demanding the right to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination, so much has changed.

And so much hasn’t. A video by weareequals.org, featuring Daniel Craig in drag, highlights some shocking statistics: “Every year 70 million girls are deprived of even a basic education and a staggering 60 million are sexually assaulted on the way to school.”

The Witches of Gambaga, a documentary by Ghanaian writer and film-maker Yaba Badoe, goes even further to show the beliefs held by rural communities that justify the abuse and sometimes torture of women at the hands of members of their own families.

Badoe follows the lives of women in northern Ghana who have been judged to be witches – a decision reached by the way a slaughtered chicken dies. They are the lucky ones having escaped with their lives and now take refuge in witch camps, sanctuaries, but where they labour for the chief and from whom they have to buy back the right to leave the camp.

While it is acknowledged that men also use witchcraft, the assumption is that they use if for good, to protect their homes or to heal. However, women are thought more likely to use these powers to commit crimes motivated by their inherent envy of others. This is how the community answers the questions left by a gaping lack of education.

Removing these women from their communities has knock-on consequences: they were supposed to be there for their daughters, to offer practical and emotional support, to look after the young children, to be the storytellers, teachers and historians – handing down knowledge and skills to subsequent generations of women. A vicious domino effect, it is other women and then whole communities that suffer for the first injustice done.

There are many achievements to celebrate this week. But the job is far from done if the fate of women and the generations after them is decided by those interested in maintaining the patriarchy – and by whether a chicken faces up or down when it dies.

Thanks to Faustina Boakye and Ann Birch of World Vision for the pictures. World Vision work with women in a witch camp in northern Ghana where they have rebuilt homes, helped establish a micro-enterprise project and provided a borehole, medical care and food to 35 old women and their dependants.

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Written by Eliza

March 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

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