Kenyan AIDS widows say no to wife inheritance

Mildred Akinyi, a HIV positive widow from western Kenya, and other members of her St Monica's Widows Group, have stunned members of their local community, by refusing to be "inherited" under traditional cultural practices.

The Kenya Times reports that the women's decision to break the last AIDS barrier has sparked a series of heated debates over the deeply rooted cultural practice.

But since then, Mrs Akinyi, has come to be viewed as a hero in her archdiocese of Siaya because her decision has led to a reprieve for countless widows in the region.

As a result, many widows in Nyanza province are now breaking free from the fetters of this cultural practice.

Fr Thaddaeus Oluoch, a chaplain of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu, condemns the traditional practice, saying that it has subjected women to highly demeaning rituals.

"It involves forced ritual sex seen as a form of cleansing and the women are often harassed," he told the Kenya Times.

In some cases, widows get infected with the AIDS virus or help spread it.

Fr Oluoch who works with the defiant widows, has expressed concern over the number of "commercial inheritors" known as "joter" who demand huge fees on top of the inheritance fee for their services before engaging in ritual sex including with the corpse before burial.

"This has been a major set back to our endeavours," Fr Oluoch says, "since many widows are opting to pay for the services for the fear of being neglected by their in-laws and to avoid the 'ghosts of the deceased' from invading the home."

Tired of the practice, the affected widows launched the Widows Association in local church parishes, with membership now covering the entire Nana province. The group crusades against cultural practices in the Luo tribal community that spread HIV/Aids.

During their annual convention held at Yala Catholic Parish in August last year, the well over a thousand widows addressed the issue of wife inheritance and the debate went on unabated in the presence of stakeholders.

They unanimously set forth the need for widows to be assisted financially, socially and spiritually as some of them according to Fr Oluoch are left homeless by their irate relatives who even loot their husbands properties.

The St Monica group aims at empowering such widows and helping them start income generating activities.

The Group advocates for total abstinence by widows as experts on HIV/Aids believe it is among the last barriers to reversing the spread of Aids disease.

Wife Inheritance! No please (Kenya Times, 18/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Kenya Episcopal Conference

Kenya bishops tell priests to keep out of politics (CathNews, 18/12/06)

19 Jan 2007

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