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Witchcraft accusations a historic occupational hazard for women


Women in the 16th and 17th centuries in England experienced difficulties with equal job treatment mostly because they were more likely to be accused of being witches, according to a historian who published her study in the journal Gender & History.

Cambridge University historian Philippa Carter posits that the types of employment available to women at that time came with a higher risk of facing witchcraft allegations when things went wrong.

For example, as Ms. Carter explained, many of those jobs — in health care, childcare, livestock care — often left women in danger of being accused of “magical sabotage” when death, disease or spoilage occurred.  

“This article has considered witchcraft accusation as a potential fallout of certain kinds of work-related incidents, likeliest to occur in certain high-risk lines of work,” Ms. Carter wrote. “Relatively rare, but potentially fatal, it was only one of many gender-differentiated occupational hazards.”

The study says that the deaths of sheep and cattle at the time led to a typical accusation of witchcraft against women, as they were more likely to be livestock workers than men during that era.