Tag Archives: Kenya

Widow Cleansing

It might seem I am Patriarchal in my viewpoint, but that is really not the case.  I am finding injustices against women and children in this world that cry out for change.  When I find them, I need to write about them.  I need to know and I think others might as well. No matter where these circumstances occur, they need to be exposed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there exists a practice called widow cleansing. Widows are forced to have sex with the brother, or another relative, of her deceased husband. In some cases, men, called joters, are paid to do this.

The cleansing lasts from 3 to 7 days.  At the end, the woman must burn all her clothes and her head is shaved.  Should a woman refuse to undergo this process, she is cursed and held responsible for her husband’s death.  Her home and property might be taken away. In rural Kenya, widows are treated horribly.  They are considered impure and the cleansing is to chase away demons.  Women who resist run the risk of losing their children.

One of the relevant issues these widows face is that of contracting HIV/Aids.  ln an area where HIV/Aids is highly prevalent, this risk of contagion is real.  Professional cleansers are not tested for sexually transmitted diseases. In Kenya, few men live beyond age 40.

Widow cleansing is a patriarchal, superstitious process that is best dealt with through education.  As a result, it occurs in rural areas more than anywhere else.  When education occurs, cultural expectations shift and widows can heal.

Of course, some women choose to go through widow cleansing by choosing the partner who will cleanse them.  One woman I read about, in time fell in love with her professional cleanser, although the man said he might be a cleanser again if paid enough.  In Kenya, pay for a ritual cleansing runs about $260.  Compared to an average income of $13, the money is attractive. Widow cleansing is slowly being eradicated as education moves into rural areas.



I read, this morning, about a village in the Sambura region of Kenya that is inhabited only by women and children. Umoja women escape to the village to avoid the injustices of a strictly patriarchal society.  Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and polygamy are pervasive in the Sambura culture.   Girls are married off as second and third wives.  Children as young as 9 and 10 are pregnant.

Umoja women place a strong emphasis on education. Within the Sambura culture, illiteracy runs at 76%, mostly among females. Girls with education are viewed as role models.

The women finance the village both through making beaded necklaces and tourism, providing shelter to people going on nearby safaris. The monies are brought to the village matriarch, who disperses income to villagers based on the number of children in each family.

Villagers run in age from 98 to six months. When a male child reaches age eighteen, he has to move out. Sambura critics say the women are radical and anti- men even as they say men visit women at night.

I’ve often thought that living in a community of women would be a wonderful experience. There is a freedom not to be found in a patriarchy.  Certain  mores don’t exist. There is a tactic understanding that defies interpretation. My friends and I used to talk about living next to each other in a supportive, interactive, loving setting. I would love the experience of spending appreciable time in such a community.