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It’s a common phenomenon in the northern part of Ghana for a healer to treat a female patient and make her his wife. This could be either out of the will of the woman or force from the woman’s parents to satisfy the healer’s demand. In most cases the women are made to believe that getting married to the supposed healer and remaining in his hands is the only way for them to be free from their sickness.

There is a strong belief in northern Ghana that some diseases are caused by spirits and or fellow human and cannot get solution except from a traditional or religious healer. In view of this, some families after several struggles to treat their relatives especially females “donate” them to any man who is able to treat them.

In some cases, the healer will personally request to have the woman as his wife simply because they have developed interest in them during the healing process. It is also believed that through consultations, the gods may demand that the healer marries the woman before she can get healed.

Other healers also while treating females on admission in their homes get them pregnant during the process which usually coerce them to remain their wives.   Such practices have denied many women especially the young ones of pursuing their dreams as they are forced to marry and stay with men who are old enough to be their fathers.

Most often they are forced to live in rural areas where these healers reside. Some women who are married but unfortunately attract serious diseases lose their marriages to the healers as they are compelled to live their husbands for them just for the sake of having their health back. Unfortunately, this barbaric act is not same to men who have been treated by female healers.

Chief Abdul Karim Kochim Naa is a traditional healer and also a victim who has treated and married a woman and explains to me what the practice means. Even though he’s a victim, he believes its wrong to marry a woman against her will.

“Some women are thrown out of their husband’s house because of sickness and at some instances the parents of these women always tell the healer to heal the woman and keep her as his wife. Some women are born with sickness which prevents men from approaching them and in that case a healer can treat and marry the woman. Healers should be careful of how they propose to women under their treatment. Such acts can affect their healing integrity”

On her part, the executive Director for Songtaba, Hajia Lamnatu Adam condemn the practice and calls for its immediate stop. She said such a practice is a violation of human right.

“It is common within our communities to see herbalists and for that matter big mallams to treat women and it will lead to marriage. For me I classify that as force marriages especially where the survivor may not accept to it. And many times, we found that is people with mental challenges and anybody who is not in his or her right state of mind cannot take a decision on him or herself, so for women who fall victim because of their mental state at a time and they get small help from mallams or anyone who shows a way in treating them, they will just marry them” Hajia Lamnatu stated.

Well! marriage is good but it should be a concerted effort and agreement. For me as a human right activist I see that is a human right violation and if she was treated very well, the person who treated her may not be the option for a man to marry and I think that it’s time for parents or care givers to put a stop and reflect on how we choose spouses for people who are mentally not stabled especially women or girls”, she added.       

A woman in her late 30s (Aminatu not her real name) narrated to me how she ended up becoming a “treat and take wife”.

“I had a swollen finger and that day I could not sleep till day break and some one told me that a healer was at Nyarizee so I went there and collected some herbs which helped me to sleep that night. The herbalist ask why I was not married at the time and I told him I and my husband broke up because of my sickness. The herbalist treated me for a second time and was asking for my hand in marriage but then I was not married so I accepted. But for my sickness we wouldn’t have met”.

Hajia Lamnatu further explained that any form of exchange marriage is an abuse of women and must not be tolerated.

“Child marriages, exchange marriages are all forms of abuse. Any relationship you put a woman or a girl that she is not concerting to is a crime, and so exchange marriages and force marriages are forms of marriages that are not allowed in Ghana and most especially for people who are less than 18 years, it’s a crime and are punishable by law. The important thing is for as to get the survivors to report such instances, many a times if they are young girls, they run to kayayee and in another form they get multiple violation because where they are going to stay, you and I know the situations and conditions under which they live”.

Even as many organizations both private and government are striding to end all forms of women abuses including force marriage, this aspect of forcing women to marry healers is mostly overlooked, partly because it’s a matter of health.

But can you imagine a doctor expressing interest in the women they treat, what would be its consequences?  Sustainable development goal 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030.

Around the world, a growing backlash against women’s rights is threatening even well-established freedoms and protections. Without heightened commitment from the global community, gender equality will remain nothing more than an unrealized goal.

According to UN women 2022 convention, of women and girls aged 15-49, more than 1 in 10 (12.5%) were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the year 2021. To achieve gender equality by 2030, progress must be 17 times faster than it was over the last decade. The practice where women are forced to marry their healers must also be given attention and fought to its core since many hide under the cover of healing to abuse women.    

Source: Biawurbi     

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