Widowhood in the Era of HIV/AIDS: A Case Study of Slaya District, Kenya


Ambasa-Shisanya, Constance R. 2007. “Widowhood in the Era of HIV/AIDS: A Case Study of Slaya District, Kenya.” SAHARA-J: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS 4 (2): 606-15.

Author: Constance R. Ambasa-Shisanya


Luo women are believed to acquire contagious cultural impurity after the death of their husbands that is perceived as dangerous to other people. To neutralise this impure state, a sexual cleansing rite is observed. In the indigenous setting, the ritual was observed by a brother-in-law or cousin of the deceased husband through a guardianship institution. However, with the emergence of HIV/AIDS, many educated brothers-in-law refrain from the practice and instead hire professional cleansers as substitutes. If the deceased spouses were HIV positive, the ritual places professional cleansers at risk of infection. Thereafter, they could act as a bridge for HIV/AIDS transmission to other widows and to the general population. This paper provides insights into reasons for continuity of widowhood rites in Siaya District. Twelve focus group discussions and 20 in-depth interviews were conducted. The cultural violence against Luo widows could spread HIV/AIDS, but Christianity and condoms act as coping mechanisms.

Keywords: coping mechanisms, cultural violence against widows, guardianship institution, HIV/AIDS, professional cleaners, sexual cleansing rite

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Health, HIV/AIDS, Sexual Violence Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Kenya

Year: 2007

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