Kenyans speak out against widow-cleansing tradition

In region with high HIV/Aids prevalence rates, a widow is often ‘inherited’ by another man, which can include sexual act.

Nyanza, Kenya – In parts of Kenya, tradition dictates that a widow is inherited by another man, usually a relative.

Before that happens, however, she first has to engage in so-called widow-cleansing rituals which can include a sexual act with another man.

Alice Akinyi, a widow in western Kenya’s Nyanza village who was “inherited” twice, told Al Jazeera that she supported the tradition and would do it again.

“I would also agree to my daughter following the tradition because it is what I grew up with,” she said. But some women are now speaking out against the practice.

Eunice Odhiambo, a widow with two sons who rejected the tradition, was supported by Power Woman International group which built her a new house.

Clan elders have told her that she cannot live there before she is “cleansed by a man”. If she refuses again, her sons will die, they told her.

Nana Wanjau, the CEO of a support group Power Woman International, said: “I am a mom of two boys, just like Eunice. I can’t imagine Eunice being forced to be practically raped just to protect her kids. It’s inhuman.”

In rural villages, clan elders are the decision-makers and they say widow cleansing is important “to chase away the demons”.

On top of it being inhuman, such practices also help spread HIV/Aids: the region has one of the highest prevalence rates in Kenya.

“Inheritance is spoken about, widow cleansing is not spoken about,” says Roseline Orwa, a founder of Rona Foundation, a support group for orphans and widows.

“Therein lies the problem. Because [widow] cleansing is where the actual sexual act takes place without protection.”