Stopping Witchcraft Accusations in Africa

Systemic Violence Against Older Women

In Tanzania and other countries, witchcraft beliefs have led to an alarming number of witchcraft accusations. Anyone can make them, and they can be based on almost anything – like "bewitching" to cause illnesses. Allegations also come from family members who want control of a widow's property. 


The accused are usually vulnerable older women, and after being labeled as witches they are often brutally attacked or murdered. It's a complex issue that involves deep-rooted cultural beliefs, the low status of women, poverty and other factors.


The good news is that our interventions are working. There's been a 99% reduction in killings in regions where HelpAge and our partners have intervened. Here is how we are working to help older women in these communities.




In order to prevent witchcraft accusations and attacks against older women, we train village committee members on women's rights, highlighting the harmful consequences these accusations have on victims. 


We work to influence the beliefs and practices of groups such as traditional healers, religious leaders, government officials, civil society organizations, and the media.


Legal Support

We help train community members as paralegal advisers to provide advice on land, inheritance, and marriage rights. Since the start of the project, our paralegal advisers have handled about 20,000 cases.


Our work with local partners has mobilized communities to build houses and improve sanitation facilities for women who have been threatened, attacked, or who have simply become isolated by the rest of the community.



Our Impact


In our project areas, we’ve seen a significant reduction in disputes over land rights, inheritance, and matrimonial issues paralleled by improvements in older women’s living conditions. When our partners introduced fuel-efficient stoves to demonstrate that red eyes, often associated with witchcraft, are caused by a lifetime or working over smokey cooking fires, we helped dispel a dangerous, long-held misconception.


But outside of the project areas, killings of older women continue to rise.



Nyamizi, 73

“I received a threatening letter that said, ‘You must leave this village, move 15 villages away from here. If not, the sungu-sungu (local guards) from this village will do something that you will never, ever forget.’ Sometime later I was returning home at night. Suddenly, someone came running towards me — he struck me with a machete and chopped off my arm and slashed my head. I was unconscious for over a day and in the hospital for three weeks. I was sure I was going to die." 

Thanks to the intervention of HelpAge and local partners, things are changing in Nyamizi's village. Annastasia, Nyamizi's daughter, says: "Things are different [now]. People are more open, they know more about the threats which were secret before. "The sungu-sungu are now wasalama (peace-keepers) and exist in each village to protect us. They're the same people, but now they protect us."