Hadija, early 60s, Tanzania

Witchcraft accusations are a critical factor in women's rights abuses in Sukumaland, Tanzania, and are often generated by wider problems in the community.

Hadija was accused of being a witch because her eyes were red from cooking on smoky stoves. HelpAge has given her a stove which produces less smoke.

(c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

Hadija was accused of being a witch because her eyes were red from cooking on smoky stoves. HelpAge has given her a stove which produces less smoke.

For example, limited understanding of HIV and AIDS and other illnesses can result in the belief that a family has been "bewitched".

Witches are said to have red eyes - a common legacy for older women who have suffered a lifetime of cooking for their families over smoky, inefficient stoves using poor quality fuel.


Hadija said: "I've been a traditional healer for the last 15 years. Even though I'm a traditional healer, this doesn't protect me from being accused of witchcraft. I can't control what people think of me.

Accusing of being a witch

"The accusations started in 2005. One day I was away at a rally. I went home to find letters accusing me of being a witch. The sungu-sungu (a group of men, given the role by their communities of guarding the people and their property) gathered outside my home and wanted to hear my side of the story.

"They asked if I'd been in any conflict with anyone. I said no. They advised me to go to the police and gave me a letter from them (sungu-sungu) to the police. I went the police, they asked the same questions, wrote a statement, sent me home, and said they would investigate. But they've been silent up to now.

Isolated from the community

"I did nothing. The sungu-sungu would come around and keep an eye on me and protect me. But then this (HelpAge) programme started in 2008, I opened up and started to discuss the issues of accusations with the wider community.

"I had been the only one accused in my village and has been isolated from people, because it was publicly announced that I had been accused and threatened. Some didn't believe it, some did. But then after the programme started people began to visit me again.

Now our eyes are clear

"The fuel efficient stoves were built and this helped me. A lot of women here have red eyes, including me. My eyes were very red. People believed it is the sign of a witch.

"We never attended school, so we were working on these smoky stoves since we were young children, cooking, cooking morning to night. Now our eyes are clear.

"The smoky stoves blinded some women. My eyesight is very strong - I see hundreds of metres away. 120 of these stoves have been built in the village now.

"So things have improved for older women. We have better stoves, better houses. We feel safe. We still need better health services, and some older people have to travel long distances to collect water. We don't have much, but we thank you for what we have".

"Things have improved for older women. We have better stoves, better houses. We feel safe."

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