Failure to pardon women persecuted as witches in Scotland prolongs misogyny

Failure to pardon women persecuted as witches in Scotland prolongs misogyny

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The failure to bring posthumous justice to the thousands of people – mostly women – persecuted for being witches in post-Reformation Scotland “prolongs misogyny,” said an MSP applying for a legal clemency.

Ahead of Thursday’s publication of a Holyrood member’s draft law, the SNP-MSP Natalie Don declared: “The only way we can move forward in relation to misogyny and prejudice in society is to right these injustices of our past.” also hoped the member’s bill could help raise awareness in parts of the world where women and girls still face such allegations and their violent consequences.

A pardon for the 4,000 people who were tortured and often executed under the Witchcraft Act 1563 would be a collective rejection of misogynistic attitudes both past and present, Don said. She believes the campaign to recognize this historic femicide has gained prominence in recent years because of its contemporary resonance.

“Certain types of women who were targeted, generally because they were a little bit different, they were poor, they were outcasts. We still see that in this day and age — though they may not be the same traits — where women who choose to be different or independent feel the wrath of men.”

When First Secretary Nicola Sturgeon issued a formal apology to those affected on International Women’s Day this spring, she noted that the “deep misogyny” that motivated the Witchcraft Act was not part of history: “Today, it’s not shirking in claims of witchcraft, but in everyday harassment, online rape threats and sexual violence.”

The launch was welcomed by Claire Mitchell QC of the Witches of Scotland campaign, which has prompted calls for apologies and forgiveness: “This is a way for people in the 21st century to recognize and say hello to those who have suffered the worst miscarriage of justice for centuries before.”

The momentum for national recognition continues to grow: the charity Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland received an apology from the Church of Scotland last month for their central role in the persecution and now has a possible site for a national memorial in Fife, the place identified by much of Scotland’s witch panic.

The bill comes amid a wave of grassroots groups researching local law enforcement and organizing community memorials. The Renfrewshire Witchhunt group recently held a memorial on the last remains of Gallows Green in Paisley where seven women were executed on 10 June 1697.

In West Lothian, Mairi Harkness is part of a project aiming to uncover women from the Calder community who were strangled and then burned at the stake, with plans to bring her pop-up museum to local schools.

“The national campaigns are very important to get people to think about what happened and people then start looking into their local history to find out more about the affected people in their area; the real people who lived where we live now and who once would have been our neighbors.”

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