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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Kenyan Women Reject Sex Cleanser
Washington Post (08.18.03)::Emily Wax

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


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. The custom has
always been unpopular among women.

"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 realize what this tradition is doing."

[Further information about cleansing can be found on the Human Rights
Watch website:  ]


Source: CDC HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update 08/20/03