Kenyan Widows Face Dangerous Tradition

A major national newspaper recently investigated a traditional requirement that widows in Kenya often face that is being blamed for helping spread HIV/AIDS. According to the Washington Post, Kenyan widows must be “cleansed” by the village “cleanser,” one of hundreds of thousands of men who sleep with widows and unmarried women who have lost a parent or child to get rid of evil spirits. According to the Post, “cleansers” are spreading HIV at high rates in villages where one in every three people is infected with the virus.

“Cleansers” can be found in various rural villages in other African countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Senegal, and Nigeria. The tradition holds that a woman who loses her husband is thought to be “unholy” and needs to be cleansed to attend funerals and/or remarry. Women’s groups in Kenya, such as Standing Idle Does Not Pay, have become more powerful in recent years and have worked to rid their villages of these “cleansers.”

In other news in Kenya, earlier this week dozens of Kenyan women, organized by the women’s British lawyer Martyn Day, presented petitions to the British High Commission offices in Nairobi on behalf of alleged victims of rape by British soldiers, according to Agence France Presse. The petitions urged the British government to take financial responsibility for the education of the mixed-race children and demanded an independent investigation by Britain and Kenya into the alleged rape cases.

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Washington Post 8/18/03; BBC News 8/14/03; Agence France Presse 8/14/03; Feminist Daily News Wire

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