Many elderly women are going through emotional stress and humiliation for being labelled as witches in many parts of the country and notably is the northern parts of Ghana where six witch camps are located to provide safe shelter for women who have been tortured and banished from their communities as alleged witches.
Elderly women who have suffered some misfortunes in life such as death of their husbands or partners, children or divorced, are usually labelled as witches who have used black magic to cause the death of their own children, husbands or a relative.
Without any substantive proof, these women are abandoned, denied basic care and become a mockery in society, to the extent that some are banished from their homes to stay at witch camps under very constrained conditions.
An evidence-based research report from Songtaba has identified a strong gender element in witchcraft allegations and that more than half of inmates at the various witch camps in the northern regions were experiencing some form of depression as a result of some life experiences.
The research also shows that majority of the women accused of witchcraft have low or extremely low quality lives as well as high depression rates resulting from female gender or marital status with a prevalence of 52.7 percent of high depression, 23.5 percent of mild depression and 37.2 percent of moderate depression.
According to the research, 93 percent of the majority accused of witchcraft were women with extremely low lives and about 66.5 percent out of that number were widows whiles the rest were divorced or separated.
“Although the belief in witchcraft is framed within a socio-cultural context, the narrative within its practice is highly gendered with power relations and gender agency playing a critical role, considering the fact that men who are accused of witchcraft are able to argue their case out and therefore are not banished or humiliated as women go through”.
The research titled, “Prevalence of Depression, Quality of Life and Gender Dynamics of Women Accused of Witchcraft in Northern and North- East Regions of Ghana” was conducted by Songtaba in collaboration with Ghana Somubi Dwumadie at the six witch camps in Ghana.
The research recommended that government and the district assemblies have been urged to allocate funding towards improving the living conditions of the camps to make the witch camps more habitable or convert them into residential areas with provision of basic amenities since the current state and living conditions of the camps are very deplorable for the meantime, whiles the necessary steps were taken to close down the camps.
It also recommended that government enact laws to criminalize witchcraft accusations to ensure that accusers were severely punished, whiles a large-scale sensitization and education of the Police, and other government institutions involved in the human rights and social protection work, to build their capacities to deal decisively and legally on such matters.
Madam Lamnatu Adams, Chief Executive Officer of Songtaba, in a briefing with the GNA explained that some societal norms and dictate that women should not have magical powers or access to reproductive resources, “this lack of resources work together with socio-cultural beliefs about power to create a fertile ground for women to be accused of witchcraft and subsequent banishment.”
She said for the fact that over 97percent of inmates at the witch camps are women indicates a highly gender-based violence practice against women and a human rights abuse, which the government must rise to the call to address by closing the camps and re-integrating the inmates into society.
Another interesting thing found from the research also that all the inmates or women accused of witchcraft have low or extreme low living conditions or described as social misfits and that also shows discrimination and the level of vulnerability of one’s status in society, she added.
Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Authority (MHA) during a seminar on “life situations and mental health implications” observed that issues of marriage, divorce and death of a spouse affected women heavily than men and that the common presentations are depression, hallucinations and unusual behaviour which is interpreted to their disadvantage.
He said people suffering from depression and other mental health conditions could easily be tagged as witches and in many instances may confirm what their accusers were saying because they are mostly in not in a good mental frame and only come to realization after the problem had been dealt with.
“People with depression or any other mental health conditions can behave in awkward and queer manner and usually fits the description of behaviour of alleged witches and in fact, they can even confess being the brain behind misfortunes in the family and that is why we must treat every situation which affects people’s sensibilities and mental health very seriously,” he added.
He also explained that apart from life experiences like death, aging and it associated I’ll health can also affect people to behave in a manner which can also present as mental illness and all they need is medical attention.
Songtaba, is a women and children rights advocacy organization committed to the realization of the aspirations and rights of women and children whiles the Ghana Somubi Dwumadie (Ghana Participation Programme) is a four-year disability programme in Ghana, with a specific focus on mental health.