New Project in Ghana Aims to End Female Servitude in Agriculture

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hundreds of young women still held as slaves to priests under traditional “Trokosi” religion

The priests — mostly maize and black bean farmers — are taught improved farming skills so they can do without female slaves. The women learn to support themselves with new skills such as sewing and hair dressing.

“The priests have vast plots of land for agriculture,” says Patience Vormawor, project officer at IN Networg Ghana. “We help them to improve on their system of farming by networking with the Ministry of Agriculture, and International Needs raises funds to help them farm on a larger scale,” she says.

As a form of micro credit, farmers are also given implements, fertilizer and barns for harvest storage. And following harvest, they pay in kind by donating a third of their produce.

Priests are also urged to tell other priests about the farmers’ improved production and the benefits of freeing up women from servitude. Vormawor says some eight hundred priests are awaiting training to actively participate in the project.

Trokosi is a traditional religion where women act as servants for priests as penance for alleged wrongdoings by a close family member against a shrine. They include smaller crimes like petty theft or serious ones like rape and murder. The practice is now illegal in Ghana but not all traditional priests have set their women captives free.

Vormawor says some of the people living in the priests’ communities encourage them to disobey the law. They support Trokosi as a religion and fear it could be destroyed if its traditions are not followed. The priests fear provoking the anger of their gods. And they like the free labor.

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