International Women's Day 2022

The Witches of Scotland (WoS) Campaign was launched on International Women’s Day 2020 by Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi. The campaign has 3 aims: to obtain a pardon for those convicted as witches under the Witchcraft Act 1563, to obtain an apology for all those accused and to obtain a national memorial to remember those killed as witches.

The Witchcraft Act 1563 resulted in approximately just shy of 4000 people being accused as witches. As with elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of those accused, some 85%, were women. Confession to allegations of witchcraft were routinely obtained by torture, both physical and mental. The stripping and pricking of women was common, as was sleep deprivation. Most confessed and that was used as the basis for their conviction. Of those 4000, academics estimate that approximately 2500 were executed. The method of execution was by way of strangulation and then burning at the stake. Scotland killed 5 times as many people as witches than elsewhere in Europe. Unfortunately, witchcraft accusations are far from an historic phenomenon. In July of 2021 the United Nations passed an historic resolution calling on countries to address their witchcraft accusation problems. In the 21 st century vulnerable people, usually women, children and elders are still suffering the terrible fate of being accused as a witch.

WoS lodged a public petition with the Petition’s Committee asking for the aims of the campaign to be met, which gained thousands signatures of support from home and abroad. The Scottish Government responded to the petition in March of 2021 and stated “The Scottish Government acknowledges that those accused and convicted of the offence of witchcraft were women who faced discrimination and had very little protection in law from allegations of criminality including witchcraft.” It also accepted “There are clearly similarities between the injustices of those convicted in a discriminatory manner for same-sex sexual activity and the injustices of women classed as witches many centuries ago which could justify legislative steps being taken in this area.” The Petition Committee is to meet soon to discuss the matter again. Recently, Natalie Don MSP discussed raising a private members bill in respect of the pardoning of those convicted and that is currently being progressed.

The First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) was established in 2017, with a misson to “be bold” where it needed to do better to challenge gender inequality. The Misson Statement for the Council is :

 

“For generations, our history has been written by one gender.

One perspective, one vision, one half of the population.

Half of history is missing.

For years, we’ve been striving for change.

But now is the time to change for good.

To design a future where gender inequality is a historical curiosity.

With the voice of everyone we want to create a Scotland where we’re all equal – with an equal future.

Together, we are generation equal.”

We agree. To date, there has been no official apology for those people who suffered this brutal miscarriage of justice. Their story has been lost in a history written by men. Now is the time to be bold, to record and acknowledge our history, to learn from it, and to vow to continue the work to gain gender equality. WoS now call upon the Scottish Government to consider issuing an apology to all those accused of witchcraft on International Women’s Day 2022. It is only by recognising our past that we can move forward and do better. A most terrible injustice was done to those killed. Let us take some time on IWD2022 to remember them as women, not witches.

 

CLAIRE MITCHELL QC & ZOE VENDITOZZI

WITCHES OF SCOTLAND