Widow cleansing: ‘Good’ intentions—negative consequences

| November 23, 2015

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This week’s story from Togo talks about how some widows lose all they have worked for when their husbands die. In some areas, widows are subjected to a traditional practice called widow cleansing.

Widow cleansing is a practice in which a widow must have sex with her husband’s brother or another relative, or with a village cleanser, after her husband dies. The “cleansing” is completed before she is taken in marriage by a brother or another relative of her deceased husband. In the Kenyan tradition, it is meant to provide protection for the widow, her children, and for the whole village.

The tradition exists not only in Kenya but in countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Ivory Coast, Congo, Ghana, and Nigeria. It’s important to note that the meaning, purpose, and practices associated with widow cleansing may be different in different cultures, different countries, and different regions. If widow cleansing has a different meaning, purpose, or set of practices for your listening audience, please adapt the script appropriately.

Though the traditional practitioners of this practice had good intentions, in this script we’ll hear about some of the negative consequences of widow cleansing.

It’s important to note that some women and men are actively rejecting this tradition, and that politicians and other leaders are speaking out against it.