In rural Tanzania, older women are being ostracised, beaten and sometimes even killed, because they have been accused of being witches.
- 2,866 older people have been murdered over the past 5 years for allegedly being witches
- In 2013 alone, 765 older people were murdered (505 of whom were women)
We are helping protect older women and providing support to those who have survived attacks.
They just hacked at me with machetes
Pictured: Mageni shows us the scars she received when she was attacked
Mageni cared for her elderly parents. She looked after them when they got sick; fed them when they were hungry; and gave them water when they were thirsty.
When her parents passed away within weeks of each other, Mageni’s brother and sisters approached a witch doctor. He said Mageni had killed them in order to get her hands on their parents’ land and livestock.
Two days after the witchcraft accusation, Mageni was attacked in her sleep. 'I woke up and found two people standing at the foot of my bed. I said "What are you doing here?" but they didn’t answer. They just hacked at me with machetes.'
'I put my arms up to protect myself – that’s why my hands and arms are covered with scars. But they also chopped my neck and shoulders, my back, my head and right across my face.'
Perhaps most chilling of all, Mageni heard her own brother say 'Come on, let’s go, we’ve finished her off.' Her attackers fled, Mageni staggered out of the house and collapsed on the floor, where she was found by her 15 year old daughter.
Why are women being attacked?
Women are attacked for many different reasons - they might be poor and an easy target; they could have red eyes from cooking all day; or they could be showing signs of dementia, an illness that is misunderstood in many countries.
If a person gets ill or dies, their family may ask a witch doctor what has happened. Invariably the finger of blame is pointed at those who are most vulnerable and therefore least likely to refute the allegations - more often than not, an older woman. The family may then seek 'justice'.
Pictured: Deyu's attackers cut off both of her arms off
Older women in Tanzania have very few legal rights and - with no pension - they are often very poor. Poverty makes older women vulnerable - not just to the accusations, but to violent attacks.
Mageni had a house of mud bricks and straw – with a piece of fabric for a door. She did not feel safe in her own home, but being a widow with no pension and no work, she could not afford to protect herself. It meant her attackers could easily get into her house to abuse her.
Pictured: Nziku received threatening letters and was attacked in the middle of the night
How we protect older women
Pictured: Nziku cooking in her home
We run a series of practical interventions to tackle some of the root causes of witchcraft accusations, but also to build community trust and motivate people to protect the older members of their community.
In the areas where the projects are running, the results have shown a staggering 99% reduction in the killing of older women; a reduction in disputes over land rights, inheritance and matrimonial issues; and huge improvements in the living conditions of older women.
- Providing wooden doors and locks
Older women are often attacked at night in their own homes. Secure homes are not only safer; they help vulnerable women to feel more secure and give them peace of mind
- Providing fuel-efficient stoves
Many older women cook over open fires inside housing with little or no ventilation, thus making their eyes red. Red eyes are equated with being a witch. By providing fuel-efficient stoves we reduce red eyes, making women safer to accusations
- Encouraging people to go to health clinics
When poor people in isolated communities get sick, they often visit a witch doctor which is cheaper than a health clinic. The witch doctor may blame a person for the illness. We encourage people to go to health clinics instead to get a medical diagnosis
- Providing widows with legal advice
When an older man dies, his family may try to take the home and property from the widow. We help women to keep their homes and possessions and protect their rights by providing them with legal advice and documents which allow land and property to be passed on to the widow
- Ensuring violence against older women is investigated
Much of the violence against older women in Tanzania is not investigated and goes unpunished. We work tirelessly with local authorities to ensure that police investigate these cases - and we spread the word as far as we can.
Help us raise awareness
This isn't a well-known issue; but it should be. Take action today - please spare 1 minute to share this article with your friends on Facebook and Twitter...