HOW CBOs ARE ENGAGED IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE ‘CLEANSING RITUAL’ IN WESTERN KENYA
When a husband passes away in western Kenya, it represents not only the loss of a spouse but also the passing of a provider for the family and a change in the woman’s standing within the community. In the traditional culture, the widow must undergo purification following the spouse’s passing.
The ritual requires widows to have sex with strangers who are sometimes HIV-positive and do not use protection. The sexual cleansing is done as part of the transition process for the widow to become eligible to remarry and is also conducted to cleanse the widow of evil spirits resulting from the death of her husband.
After the cleansing has taken place, the widow is expected to be inherited by a man, traditionally an in-law. In recent days, in-laws are now less willing to inherit a widow due to the economic burden, which has led to men who are not relatives asking for payment to perform the rituals.
Entrenched tradition, poverty, and hunger are some of the main challenges that these community organizations face in the quest to stop women from agreeing to participate in the cleansing. Poverty makes the widow agree to participate in the ritual so the man can take care of her and the children.
The CBOs that are non-profits are now supporting women’s groups that have come together to reverse the traditional practice. The groups meet once a week to offer solace, and advice to each other while preaching against the ritual to other women in the community.
As much as these women are doing something great to meet and try to stop the rituals, it’s not easy for them in the community. Many have faced death threats and some have been attacked for speaking against the practice.
The CBO has also formed men’s Barazas to try and speak to them and discourage the practice. The tradition, though, is so entrenched in the community that it’s very difficult to try and talk them out of it. The Kenyan government has also tried to enact an act that protects women against domestic violence and promotes gender equality but the act still goes on.
One of the interventions that the community-based organizations are carrying out to assist the widows in having a business of their own that can support their families is equipping these women with the skills necessary to enable them to make a living. Through their women’s organizations, the CBOs provide charity grants to help them launch businesses that say no to poverty and hunger.
The Goat Foundation is committed, in line with the sustainable development goals, to helping widows support their families through economic empowerment. We give the widow’s family a pair of goats as part of our contribution. Our intention is to give the recipients two goats—one male and one female—in the hopes that they will breed and produce additional goats.