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Experience file Dossier : Gender and Conflict Transformation

, Grenoble, May 2009

Female slavery in Ghana

This file tells the story of Juliana, who campaigned against the practice of trokosi, a form of slavery, in Ghana. Eventually, her efforts yielded a positive result as the Ghanaian Parliament passed an amendment to the Criminal Code,which criminalizes customary or ritual enslavement of any kind.

Keywords: | | | | | | | Ghana

According to a tradition called trokosi, families give virgin girls to priests (men) as a way of appeasing the gods for crimes committed by relatives. The word trokosi means in the Ewe language « slaves of the gods. » Once given to a priest, a girl is his property ; she works his fields and farmlands, cleans his home and cooks his meals. As soon as she has completed three menstrual cycles, she would be raped continuously, by the priest to whom she was given. There are two categories of trokosi - those who can be released after serving a specified number of years (normally three to five years) and those who are committed for life. If a girl dies or if the priest is tired of her, her family has to replace her. For serious crimes, families give up generations of girls. Even when girls are released, in accordance with the tradition, a trokosi is married for life to the god, and she may be required to render services at the shrine any time after her release. Many released trokosi are unable to marry and remain in concubinage to the priest and to other men for the rest of their lives. When a priest dies, his trokosi are passed on to his successor

Juliana Dogbadzi was a victim of trokosi in Ghana for almost 17 years. She told her story to Benedicta Fati Skido-Achulo who shared it during the online Course on Gender and Conflict Transformation (1) as an example of possible transformation of gender relations. The objective of sharing these stories is to demonstrate the different forms of power which people dispose of in order to change an oppressive situation.

“When Juliana was 7 years old, her parents took her to a shrine to pay penance to the gods because her grandfather had allegedly stolen two dollars. Juliana cleaned the shrine and worked in the priest’s fields, and received no food or medical treatment. The priest repeatedly raped her. She lived with 11 other women and child slaves in one small room and was never allowed to go to school. Juliana attempted to escape from the horrible conditions several times. On one occasion, her parents returned her to the shrine fearing revenge by the gods. On another occasion, when the priest found her, his workers nearly beat her to death.”

“When she was 23, Juliana finally escaped and made it to the office of “International Needs Ghana”, an organization that helped her learn skills and rebuild her life. Yet, rather than building a life without looking back, Juliana has chosen to continue to work to liberate other women and children from the trokosi practice. Juliana has since began working as an advocate for International Needs Ghana, where she returned frequently to fetish shrines to advocate to priests and other slaves about their freedom. In part due to her work, International Needs has liberated more than 1,000 slaves from 15 shrines throughout the Upper Volta region of Ghana. With the help of International Needs Ghana Juliana set up her own organization , Survivors for Change, in 2000. It is a grassroots organization comprised of women and girls who have survived human rights violations under trokosi and who have come together to fight the practices of enslavement, bondage, and discrimination that oppress them.”

“Juliana started a battle against the practice of trokosi, in Ghana with assistance from International Needs Ghana, the Federation of Women lawyers in Ghana and many other women organizations. She also appealed to the President of Ghana through the parliament to abolish the new wave of slavery. Eventually, her campaign yielded positive results. The Parliament of Ghana passed an amendment to the Criminal Code, adding Section 314A, which criminalizes customary or ritual enslavement of any kind. The new law, was signed by the President of Ghana.”


Julianana’s story has been told by Benedicta Fati Skido-Achulo during the online Course on Gender and Conflict Transformation which took place in July 2006. The objective of sharing these stories is to demonstrate the different forms of power which people dispose of in order to change an oppressive situation.


  • (1) : July 2006