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Kenyan women reject 'sex cleanser'.

In some rural African villages, tradition holds that widows must sleep with the ritual "cleanser"--men who sleep with women after their husbands die--in order to be allowed to attend their husbands' funerals or be inherited by their husbands' brother or relative (another customary practice). Unmarried women who lose a parent or child must also sleep with cleansers. Village elders in Gangre, Kenya, say the custom must be carried out or the community will be cursed with bad crops. Areas that still practice the tradition have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, causing Africans to question and change traditions as the disease ravages the continent.

The cleansing job, held by hundreds of thousands of men across rural Africa, is seen as low class but essential to "purifying" women. Cleansers are paid in cows and crops, as well as cash. They can be found in some rural parts of Uganda, Tanzania and Congo. They are also a staple in Angola and across West Africa, specifically in Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, according to African aid workers who have been trying to discuss the HIV risk that cleansers present.

The tradition dates back centuries and is rooted in a belief that spirits haunt a woman after her husband dies. She is also thought to be unholy and "disturbed" if she is unmarried and abstains from sex.

"It's a custom that must be stopped," said Janet Walsh, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, which published a report on it. "Condoms are never used; they say it has to be skin-to-skin to work." Women in Africa are six times as likely to contract HIV as men, largely because of rape and customs like cleansing, in which one man can infect hundreds of women. Nancy Oundda, a nurse with the African Medical Research Foundation, predicted that people's attitudes toward the practice will change "with education, and if they realise what this tradition is doing."

Source: GENDER-AIDS eForum 2003:
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Title Annotation:NEWS CLIPPINGS
Publication:Sister Namibia
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Previous Article:Cultural barriers keep Kenyan and Ugandan women out of AIDS vaccine trials.
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