Widow inheritance and HIV/AIDS interventions in sub-Saharan Africa: contrasting conceptualizations of 'risk' and 'spaces of vulnerability'
Agot, Evelynes Kawango
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Fourteen percent of Kenya's adult population is currently living with HIV. Of the 43 ethnic communities in the country, the Luo has been disproportionately affected by the epidemic, accounting for 32.8% of the national HIV caseloads in 2000, but comprising only 13% of the population. To check the rapid spread of the virus, one of the risk behaviors targeted for change is the cultural practice of widow inheritance. Yet despite close to 15 years of campaign and 99% 'AIDS awareness' in the community, several studies conducted between 1991 and 2000 show that the trend has remained consistent over the years, with over 50% of the widows in the rural countryside getting inherited within a year of widowhood.Using primary data from 66 focus group discussions, 161 open discussions, and 11 key informant interviews, and secondary data from various publications of the Kenyan government, the international and local agencies involved in HIV/AIDS prevention activities, and the local newspapers, I explore why intervention programs have had little success in changing the attitudes and behavior of the Luo people towards widow inheritance. The study found the main reason to be the fact that the providers and the recipients of the intervention programs are defining the 'risk' associated with the practice differently. While to the former, widow inheritance is a risk behavior for HIV acquisition and transmission and should be discarded, to the latter the practice is protective against the spread of the virus and should be revamped. As such, campaigns geared towards changing the attitudes and behavior of the community towards inheritance without addressing the disparate perceptions will continue to be ineffectual.In this dissertation, I provide a compromise between the two stakeholders---the providers and the recipients of the programs---by proposing a strategy that would reduce the risk for HIV in ways that are feasible and culturally appropriate. The proposed strategy takes into account the contextual milieu (cultural, social, economic and religious) within which widows get inherited and within which HIV can potentially be acquired or transmitted within the relationship. In the framework provided by these contexts, the following recommendations are suggested: going for HIV testing prior to inheritance, practicing symbolic inheritance without the component of sex, abstaining from sex or remaining mutually faithful, using condoms, and bolstering support for widows within their respective churches.
- Geography