The African Women's Protocol and the Right to Life for Older Persons: When Older Women are Called Witches and Murdered
Posted: 10 Oct 2016
Date Written: October 16, 2016
Although aging is a phenomenon that is found worldwide there remains significant differences in the experiences of older person in developed and developing countries. For instance, in the past two centuries, life expectancy in Western Europe increased from 32 years in the early 19th century to 80 years in 2015 while in Tanzania life expectancy grew from 43 in 1960 to 67 years in 2015. Accordingly, elderly living conditions in developed countries are better compared to their counterparts in developing countries. To date, there are approximately 2.7 million Tanzanians – the equivalent of 6 percent of the total population – aged 60 and above. This rapidly expanding group is also unfortunately more vulnerable than the rest of the population. Not only are elders poorer, by about 7%, but they are also more prone to disability, 15.5% compared to 2.4% for those between 20 and 59. Article 22 of the African Women’s Protocol requires State parties to provide protection to elderly women and take specific measures commensurate with their physical, economic and social needs. Thirteen years after the African Women’s Protocol commenced, African women are still subjected to violence and abuse and denied access to health care, inheritance and a decent standard of living. Further, older women still endure discrimination both for their age and their gender. Older women with red eyes due to cooking in smoky kitchens in Tanzania’s north-west regions have been victims of brutal collective abuse, attacks and killings because they were accused of being witches or bad omens. Few managed to flee, but the majority were killed in their homesteads. Data collected by the advocacy group, HelpAge International shows that 630 older persons in Tanzania accused of witchcraft had been murdered in 2012 and 2013 this had risen to 765. The main perpetrators are the traditional militias “Sungusungu” claiming to control the behaviour of women. The study further revealed that social-cultural factors such as customary laws on inheritance and traditional religious myths against women tend to encourage ‘witch’ hunting and related Gender-Based Violence against older women. This creates greater challenges for survivors of this violence and for the broader international community. Options may include education, increased criminal interventions or using international donor aid programs.
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