These Kenyan widows are fighting against sexual 'cleansing'

Louise Donovan and Hannah O’Neill for Pri write:

While issues like female genital mutilation (FGM) often hit headlines, widow abuse is a huge, largely overlooked, problem. According to the Loomba Foundation’s 2015 Report, there are more than 258 million widows worldwide, and nearly 10 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Prejudice against widows plays out in different ways all over the world. In India and Nepal, for example, a woman is often accused of causing her husband’s death. She isn’t allowed to look at another person as her gaze is considered bad luck, like a literal death stare. Many widows, like Atema, are forced to have sex with a stranger, while in some Nigerian communities, the widowed wife has to drink the water her dead husband’s body was washed in, or sleep next to his grave for three days.

Ritual cleansing has been reported in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The stigma stems, says Karen Brewer of Widows Rights International, from the notion that men are stronger than women.

“If a man dies, it can’t just be because he’s old,” she said. “The woman must have done witchcraft against him. It’s superstition but people who are educated in these communities realize things can be done differently.”

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