Changing attitudes to stop witchcraft accusations

Linked on our blogs with HelpAge International, and with Condemning the killing of older people on witchraft accusations. – Published on HelpAge International, by Juliana Bernard, June 14, 2011.

I was at a meeting recently with one of our partners TAWLAE (Tanzania Women Leaders in Agriculture & Environment) talking to older people about the successes of our projects which address violence against older women and attacks on older women accused of witchcraft.

It’s been a long haul, influencing and changing attitudes and behaviour towards women, especially older women. Though we very rarely have any attacks or killings of older women in the 90 villages we work on, killing of older women is on the increase in Tanzania. We’re here today talking about what we have achieved and what is still to do. 

Changing attitudes:

Eliasenya Nnko, is the chairperson of TAWLAE. She says “Our work involves changing attitudes, so we work with influencers – police, magistrates, etc… We can’t work in isolation. Now for example, resident magistrates are our champions of older women’s rights.

We were joined at the meeting by other older people involved in our work. Alfons Nyabeho, 75, who said: “Yes, use my real name, use it in full! I’m the village HIV awareness facilitiator.” Then Mary Joan, 60 and mobilisation committee secretary and Suleman, 71, chair of his community mobilisation committee.

Some have been working on these projects for three years, “but we’re not counting,” they said.

Mary Joan said: “We are addressing our communities, raising important issues. Because we are talking about making peace, about everyone’s rights, people listen to us.

“It’s not because of our age that people listen to us, but simply because the issue matters to everyone. These issues, rights, affect everyone.

“After being trained we went straight to our villages to ensure those isolated older people were brought back into villages. We showed our neighbours these older people were good, ordinary people.

“We’re also working with families, with children, talking to them about caring and talking with their grandparents, talking to families to ensure older people’s housing and sanitation is in good condition, because if it’s not this means they become isolated form everyone else.

Things are getting worse for older people: … //

… If there are rumours, people will cut you off:

Mary-Joan then gave an example: “In our village there were two abandoned older women. People were secretly fearful of them but did not openly accuse them of anything. But they were isolated from everyone else.

“We asked people, “how can you prove they are witches?” We talked about these older women’s rights, and involved them in village affairs. The village government did nothing but we organised a big meeting. Then village government officials came to the meeting and did act on the issue – from then on the village began to include these women again in daily activities.”

Alfons finished by saying: “Yes, if there are rumours, people will immediately cut you off. They will stop calling by, or dropping in to borrow some salt, or coming to see you if you are ill.

“You have to stop associating with them because you are afraid you will be accused too.”

With older people like these as our champions, we are making a difference. But the works continues. (full text).

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