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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 12:29 GMT
Kenyan widows fight wife inheritance
Alice Muthengi
BBC Africa Live!

Nora Achieng
Nora believes she got the Aids virus from the brother-in-law who inherited her

A group of 29 Kenyan women - all of them HIV positive - have formed a club to fight the culture of wife inheritance, which they blame for the spread of Aids in the area.

The Obwanda Distress Relief Club was formed by the women - all of them widows - in the small sleepy village of Obwanda in the western Kenyan district of Homa Bay.

No tradition, culture or practice can be sustained as justifiable if it endangers peoples' lives.
Andrea, Canada

Among the Luo community - who inhabit the district - young widows are inherited by a brother in-law or any other suitor chosen by the village elders.

In the past the practice ensured that a young widow's sexual needs were provided for and her children were taken care of.

The majority of Luo still believe that a curse known as "chira" will strike those who break with tradition, resulting in the death of loved ones.

Battle

42-year old Nora Achieng was inherited by her brother-in-law following her husband's death in 1994.
Lillian Achieng
Lillian has resisted attempts to be inherited by her brother-in-law

"I found out I had Aids when I went for testing. I believe I got the virus from my brother-in-law, after my husband died of cancer."

Lillian Achieng, a 26 year-old widow and mother of three, lost her husband to Aids in 1999. She has the disease.

But Lillian has refused to remarry and has resisted several attempts to be inherited by her brother-in-law.

She says she does not want to infect another person with the virus - but the battle has not been easy.

On different occasions men have been sent to abduct her children.

"These people will do anything to make me succumb to their needs".

"They take your husband's clothes, your property, they chase you away, they do anything," says Lillian.

Deep-rooted practices

Members of the Obwanda Distress Relief Club meet every week to campaign against wife inheritance and the need for voluntary Aids testing.

The chairperson of the club, Anne Ogwel, says the biggest challenge facing them is ignorance.

"Many people think we are pretending we have Aids," Anne explains.

"They say we want to encourage young women to become big-headed and that it is fashionable not to be inherited".

Health organisations also encouraging widows in Homa Bay district to say no to wife inheritance - but it has not been easy.

Gideon Oswago, who works for the African Medical Research Foundation in Homa Bay, says that although now many people are much more aware of Aids, it is still difficult to convince people to discard deep-rooted practices.

Anne Ogwel
Anne says the biggest challenge facing women is ignorance
"It is too premature to say that things are changing," he says.

"We'd like more and more people to know their status and shed some of these traditions... we need effective and appropriate interventions on the ground... we might be able to see good results in the next decade."



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