Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Witch-Hunting, Globalization, and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Witch-Hunting, Globalization, and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today

Article excerpt

Witch-hunting did not disappear from the repertoire of the bourgeoisie with the abolition of slavery. On the contrary, the global expansion of capitalism through colonization and Christianization ensured that this persecution would be planted in the body of colonized societies, and, in time, would be carried out by the subjugated communities in their own name and against their own members. (Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation)

Discussing witch-hunting as a global phenomenon, at the end of Caliban and the Witch (2004), and commenting on the witch-hunts that have taken place in Africa and other parts of the world in the 1980s and 1990s, I expressed my concern that these persecutions were rarely reported in Europe and the U.S. Today, the literature on the return of witch-hunting on the world scene has grown and so have media reports of witch-killings, coming not only from Africa, but India, Latin America, Papua New Guinea. Yet, with few exceptions, (2) social justice movements and even feminist organizations continue to be silent on this matter, although the victims are predominantly women.

By witch-hunting I refer to the recurrence of punitive expeditions by young male vigilantes or self-appointed witch-finders, often leading to the murder of the accused and the confiscation of their properties. Especially in Africa, this has become a serious problem over the last two decades continuing to this day. Just in Kenya, eleven people, eight women and three men, were murdered in May in the Southwestern province of Kisii, accused of witchcraft (USA Africa Dialogue 5/24/08).

Studied mostly by anthropologists, witchcraft accusations and killings should concern all feminists, North and South. For in addition to inflicting an unspeakable suffering on those accused, and perpetrating a misogynous ideology that degrades all women, they have devastating consequences for the communities affected, especially the younger generations. They are also emblematic examples of the effects of economic globalization on women, further demonstrating that it contributes to the escalation of male violence against them.

In what follows, I discuss the witch-hunts in Africa, examining their motivations and suggesting some initiatives that feminists can take to put an end to these persecutions. My argument is that these witch-hunts must be understood in the context of the deep crisis in the process of social reproduction that the liberalization and globalization of African economies have produced, as they have undermined local economies, devalued women's social position, and generated intense conflicts between young and old, women and men, over the use of crucial economic resources starting with land. In this sense, I see the present witch-hunts on a continuum with such phenomena as the dowry murders and the return of sati in India, and the killings of hundreds of women in the Mexican towns at the border with the U.S., victims of rapists or snuff/porno producers. For, in different ways, they too are an expression of the effects of "integration" into the global economy, and men's readiness to vent on women their economic frustrations and even sacrifice their lives to keep abreast of advancing capitalist relations. These witch-hunts are also on a continuum with the worldwide return of "the supernatural" in political discourse and popular practice (e.g. "satanic cults" in Europe and the U.S.), a phenomenon that can be attributed to the proliferation of fundamentalist religious sects but, significantly, has emerged in conjunction with the globalization of economic life.

My analysis concludes that while mobilizing against these egregious violations of women's rights, feminists should put on trial the agencies that have created the material and social conditions that have made them possible. These include the African governments who do not intervene to prevent the killings or punish them; the World Bank, the International Monetary Find and their international supporters, whose economic policies have destroyed local economies, fueling a war of all against all. …

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