Almost always women

One of the most painful passages to write in Does God Hate Women? was the one about women accused of being witches in Ghana. It drew on news reports, like this from the New Jersey Star Ledger:

Near death after a 30-mile, weeklong walk, Tarana says she arrived at the Gambaga camp, which has sheltered accused witches since the late 18th century. Chief Ganbaraaba, she says, took her in, had her wounds tended to, and sent for Tarana’s children.

Not one has come.

You can see why that segment was tough going.

Another one:

While Adijah Iddrissu’s doll-like hands busy themselves shelling groundnuts, her large piercing eyes track her grandmother.

At 7, Adijah already has put in a year at Kpatinga…

Iddrissu explains: ‘I would love to send Adijah to school, but I really need her to work.’

Fifteen of the 45 outcasts at Kpatinga have a granddaughter with them. Like Adijah, none goes to school. What’s worse, many of the girls cannot slide back into their communities after their grandmothers die. To do so means being stigmatized possibly stoned — as punishment for associating with a witch.

They, too, will live out their lives in exile.

Burkina Faso is taking some small steps to help women accused of being witches.

In Burkina Faso, when a death is deemed suspicious, a group of men carry the corpse through the community, believing the deceased will guide them towards the person responsible for the death. The accused – almost always women – are then chased out of their homes.

According to the ministry for social action and national solidarity, about 600 women across the country have fallen victim to this practice. Most have found precarious shelter at one of 11 centres around the country, run by NGOs.

The steps are small though. Some say too small.

Although civil society and human rights organisations welcomed the action plan, they are not entirely satisfied with the government’s ambition on the issue.

“Contrary to what many people think, we could quickly put an end to this phenomenon,” said Zongo, who directs CJP’s programmes against social exclusion. “It calls for clear legislation; for example, we could ban ‘the bearing of the body’. The authorities must be more ambitious to achieve the plan’s objectives. We feel they are not very proactive.”

Dacouré believes any approach that attempts simply to punish people who threaten and beat women accused of witchcraft will fail. She points out that such actions are carried out by crowds that are difficult to prosecute, convict and sentence en masse. Instead, she suggests measures that would oblige the head of the community, perhaps even the chief, to pay damages to the victim.

“I’m convinced that when we target the wallets of these people who burn down women’s houses, who assault and exclude women like this – when, instead of the government taking care of the victims, we go into their pockets for money to reintegrate people – they’ll think more carefully before they act,” said Dacouré.

Crowds, is it? So…these women are scapegoats? Hate figures set up for the pleasure and amusement of the crowd? What does that remind me of…


  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    I’ve met educated elite people from Ghana. They seem to not believe this shit. How can we get that level of education down to the common folk?

    A little application of legal force might help too. You kill a witch or exile a witch and take her property, you suffer.

    I am convinced that religious people of all stripes are deficient in moral reasoning. Please don’t think I’m being racist here. My claim applies as much to retired general Boykin here in the US as it does to witch killers and exilers in Ghana. Their moral capacities cannot adequately respond to moral reasoning. They have chosen to live by coercion and perhaps coercion is a necessary tool we must apply to restrict their influence.

  2. says

    I can well believe it was hard to write — one of the more difficult passages of DGHW? to read, too.
    I saw a decent production of the Duchess of Malfi a couple of days ago and I was struck how the play echoed some of the themes of your book — notably the willingness of men to go to violent lengths to control women, particularly with respect to reproduction. It’s not by chance that one of the main antagonists is a top cleric. The play seemed depressingly modern, in many ways, and I wish I’d had DGHW? to refer to when I ‘did’ the Duchess as an undergrad, many years ago, as I was at a loss to explain what motivates the bad guys. Seems quite clear now.

  3. says

    Funny, I want to read the book again, and every time I start, I remember the terrible feeling I had when I read it the first time, it was so soul-destroying just to read the way that women are treated by religious men. It was a disturbing experience, and one felt so helpless reading about it and being unable to make a difference. Do you think your book made a difference where the difference needs to be made? And how do we go about condemning this kind of treatment of women if we don’t do something right here, where we live, by so regulating the lives of people that they can’t get away with this kind of inhumanity and repression here? I worry that the horrors esposed in Does God Hate Women?” are being played out in our backyard, and that concerns me.

  4. says

    It saddens me that destructive superstitions like this still exist in the 21st century. Communities need to find better ways of dealing with stressors than destroying the lives of women and children.

  5. says

    Mark – ooh, ooh, that’s really interesting. I went through a phase a coupla decades ago of being deeply interested in Elizabethan/Jacobean plays, and I found that that pattern was all over them – the pattern of men obsessing over women’s sexual activity, in a profoundly hostile suspicious angry way. The Duchess of Malfi is a classic of the genre.

    Elizabethan/Jacobean Britain was very like contemporary Pakistan.

    Another striking thing is that the pattern was universal, as far as I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of the plays, but there were thousands, most of which were thrown out, so my sample is tiny) – men suspected women and they always turned out to be right: the woman was a whore. End of story. The only playwright who broke the pattern was that fella from Stratford. He kept having men suspecting women and turning out to be dead wrong. (Much Ado, Cymbeline, Othello, Winter’s Tale.) That was a very eccentric thing to do…especially since, in an “honour” culture, to be suspected is to be guilty.

  6. says

    Eric –

    Do you think your book made a difference where the difference needs to be made?

    Well, I don’t know…But there is a samizdat translation into Kurdish, so I do think that might make a difference.

  7. Brian M says

    You know. I am a big skeptic about patriotism and nationalism and the long term sustainability of industrial civillization (modernism). Always prating about decentralizing things to the “community”.

    The problem is, of course, Small is NOT always beautiful. Some of the worst oppression in the world comes directly from small, localized elites and systems.

  8. Brian M says

    That’s honestly my fear, Ms. Daisy Cutter. If “industrial civillization” goes into a tailspin and we can’t have our mod cons and our consumer toys and State services and mythical “career” advancement and all that…then will humanity turn back to the Demon Haunted world 100% (instead of just 60%)

  9. Brian M says

    Of course…there may be another “alternative” scenario, depending on how far the fall is…back to a pre-Christian, pagan/animist existence. Which I think has its advantages over Dark Ages Christianity but will still be no picnic.

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