A statement presented to Parliament by the Gender Minister, Otiko Djaba about state of alleged witches in camps across the Northern Region has drawn backlash from aid agencies including ActionAid Ghana.
ActionAid is questioning whether the minister understands correctly their operations in the various camps.
Ms Djaba reported to parliament on January 25th, that despite efforts to shut down witch camps in the region, many alleged witches are refusing to return home due to fear of attack at the slightest suspicion.
The Gender and Social Protection Minister also told parliament that her ministry will empower these women with skill training through the Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP) Programme while they live at the camps.
“We have visited the Gambaga Witch Camp and we’ve put some of them on LEAP and with the new LEAP, what we intend to do is that those who can be reintegrated, the various discussions between the community and the alleged witches will continue to go on.
“However, some of them don’t want to go back to their communities because they feel that anytime something bad happens in the community, they are the first to be accused like when somebody’s child dies or there is any mishap, and, so, because of that we intend with the new LEAP to provide the productive ones with skills training and wherever they want to stay we will support them to be able to live on their own.”
But Actionaid has launched a strong criticism against the statement after another aid agency, Presby Go Home, said only 10% of these women are willing to return to integrate.
The aid agencies are particularly pained by the statements of the minister and her lack to grasp on what was going on in the witch camps.
“I feel sad,” ActionAid Ghana Programmes Coordinator in the Northern Region, Madam Alia Mumuni told Starr News in Tamale.
“I will not want to fault the minister because she probably does not work in the camps directly, she also in a way sourced this information from some other organisations probably and so she could be misled,” she added.
Madam Alia questioned the method of the research used to compile the report and disputed roundly saying recent ActionAid’s findings on the subject showed more women were rather ready and willing to return home to families and societies.
“I will say that, quite a huge number are willing to go, because there is nothing comfortable at the camp that would attract or motivate these women to continue living there,” she added.
She continued that “there is power and economic dimension to this whole thing. Even the care takers of these women at the camps who are the traditional priests at the camps, in a way, as much as it will not be openly started, benefit in various ways from these women. They have free labour from these women, and other benefits and so you don’t expect…if you don’t understand the dynamics even in your research at the camps, you may not be getting the accurate information”
“The presence of these traditional priests at the time of your data collection could affect or influence the responses that you will be getting, and so the caretaker is seated right there and are interviewing the women asking them do you want to go. It’s like some kind of power to these priests and so you don’t expect them to let go these benefits so easily, and so you must understand the dynamics before you even go there to conduct the research”.
ActionAid also revealed that the World Bank which is funding the LEAP has reviewed the programme to remove names of occupants of witch camps and Children’s Homes as beneficiaries and so could not be true the ministry would be providing empowerment through skill training to these alleged witches and urged the ministry to intensify efforts to achieve the overall campaign of stopping the injustices against these vulnerable people.
The agency therefore found the statement as disastrously clueless and demanded that the minister disclose her collaborative plans she intends using to work with the various camp including what will be done to protect women who will agree to reintegration.
“I will want to know the minister’s plan or the ministry’s plan on how she intends to work with the alleged witches in the camps. Currently as we speak, one record, that we have large number of the women from the existing camps whose names have been gone missing from the LEAP register. We have had even meetings with some of the DCEs where these camps are located and Gushegu is one of them, on how we can get these women back to the LEAP, and so I’m not sure whether the minister is aware of these challenges or not”
“I want the minister to go a bit further. She made mention that 90% of these women don’t want to go home because they don’t feel safe in their communities, what is she doing or what does she intends to do to change this status quo? We are in a country that is governed by laws so if you still have some of these injustices happening to people in their communities, I think she has a lot of work to do to change that. What are our laws enforcement agencies doing,” Alia asked.
ActionAid has immeasurable accomplishment in the fight against poverty and injustices against women, children and other vulnerable groups in the region. In 2014, it collaborated with the Gender, Women and Social Protection Ministry then headed by Madam Oye Lithur to disband the Boyaase witch camp in the Central Gonja district.
The symbolic closure reunited about fifty five inmates with families and brought to an end years of bondage, servitude and social ostracism.