No Peace in the House: Witchcraft Accusations as an “Old Woman’s Problem” in Ghana
Alexandra Crampton, Ph.D.
Department of Social and Cultural Sciences, Marquette University
Download full PDF here:AAQ34(2)CRAMPTON
In Ghana, older women may be marginalized, abused, and even killed as witches. Media accounts imply this is common practice, mainly through stories of “witches camps” to which the accused may flee. Anthropological literature on aging and on witchcraft, however, suggests that this focus exaggerates and misinterprets the problem. This article presents a literature review and exploratory data on elder advocacy and rights intervention on behalf of accused witches in Ghana to help answer the question of how witchcraft accusations become an older woman’s problem in the context of aging and elder advocacy work. The ineffectiveness of rights based and formal intervention through sponsored education programs and development projects is contrasted with the benefit of informal conflict resolution by family and staff of advocacy organizations. Data are based on ethnographic research in Ghana on a rights based program addressing witchcraft accusations by a national elder advocacy organization and on rights based intervention in three witches camps.
Keywords: older women, witchcraft, Ghana, advocacy, human rights, development
Crampton, Alexandra. 2013. No Peace in the House: Witchcraft Accusations as an “Old Woman’s Problem” in Ghana. Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 34(2):199-212.
When I was in San Diego last spring for the SPA/ACYIG Meeting (Anthropology of Children and Youth Interest Group), I attended a panel discussion on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which only the USA and Somalia are yet to ratify).
Many of us are involved in similar political advocacy for the rights and welfare of older persons. We may work in areas of the world where these rights are debated, ignored, or threatened. In most cases, the rights of older persons are either explicitly or implicitly covered in generic human rights declarations such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). However, although positive steps were taken last August at the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, the UN is yet to adopt a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. (See the pdf of the August 2012 working paper on the rights of older persons by Fredvang and Biggs here)
Realizing that the challenges and vulnerabilities faced by older adults were shared by children and youth as well, and that the AAGE and ACYIG share a common emphasis on the life course perspective, the anthropologists at the table thought it would be a good idea to to move towards building a common agenda on both advocacy or engaged anthropology issues as well as on life course research on human rights, including the distinctive ways older people and younger people are affected by climate change and natural disaster, poverty, abuse, mental health, discrimination, war and displacement, institutional living, and many other issues.
ACYIG was generous in taking the first step. Aviva Sinervo (UCSC), who edits the newsletter for ACYIG published this piece by AAGE/AALCIG member Richard Zimmer (pdf of his contribution here). Zimmer does not speak specifically to the human rights issues brought up at the workshop I attended, but he does raise the crucial issues of working across generations in communities affected by developmental disabilities. In working with these families, Zimmer highlights the need for greater anthropological/ethnographic work on the family that can draw together the complexity of individuals at different ends of the life course.
I hope that our groups can find additional ways to make additional generational links. From here, we might think about organizing a panel for the ACYIG meeting (in Charleston, SC, 12-15 February) and keep things rolling (AAA 2014?). Hope that AAGE X ACYIG this becomes a recurring theme in the news here. Email us and/or Aviva Sinervo at ACYIG if you would like to get involved or organize conference symposia/events (You can also join the ACYIG for free if you are a AAA member, or join their listserv, or like their Facebook page even if you are not!)