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Rosemary Donald has through ELCT/BAKWATA's sessions and the support of her father been able to refuse widow cleansing and stand up for her rights. Photo: Rogers Kamisa

Tanzania: Rosemary refused widow cleansing

When Rosemary's husband died, the traditions said she had to have unprotected sex with men to keep her land. But thanks to a workshop she had attended with Diakonia's partner organization, she refused.

9/1/2013 Publisher: Julle Bergenholtz

Her husband's death came as a shock

Rosemary Donald married very early at thirteen years old and bore two children with one dying of illness. Through their marriage, Rosemary and her husband had managed to own some land and had begun building a house by the time of his death.

"When my husband died I was so shocked because he left me with a little child to take care of and also, according to our tradition, any property we owned automatically belonged to my in-laws until I went through the cleansing practice. Only then would I be allowed to take charge of our matrimonial property."

Went to SRHR sessions at the partner organization ELCT/BAKWATA

Soon after the funeral, Rosemary’s mother-in-law asked her to proceed with the cleansing so that she could become part of the family again. However, Rosemary had seen widows get infected with various sexually transmitted infections (STI's) such as HIV, and getting pregnant after the cleansing process. She had also attended Diakonia's partner organization ELCT/BAKWATA’s community sensitization sessions on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Rosemary refused to be "cleansed"

The sessions helped Rosemary and other community members realize how certain traditions undermine women's SRHR. Backed with that knowledge, Rosemary rejected the cleansing process, which angered her mother-in-law. Luckily, her father was very supportive of her decision and welcomed her back home.

Widow cleansing is a practice that has been going on for a long time in the village where Rosemary lives. Widows are required to engage in unprotected sex with strange men so that they can be "cleansed" and freed from a curse in order to become acceptable to their in-laws. These men involved are called "doctors" and they dictate the conditions of how and when the sexual act is carried out.

Women have rights towards their bodies

Through the assistance of paralegals, Rosemary got her land back from her mother-in-law and began growing cassava and potatoes that she sells to support her child. She still faces resistance from close family members who find it difficult to understand her rejection of the tradition since they are unaware of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. But Rosemary is happy with her decision.

"After rejecting the practice, I feel very comfortable and free taking care of my child. My message to other women is that we have rights towards our bodies. The sensitization on SRHR by ELCT/BAKWATA has led to more and more women rejecting this tradition. This sensitization should be continued so that the entire community is aware of SRHR," says Rosemary.