Disinheritance of widows to blame for increased HIV infections
An unlawful action against women’s right to land ownership is to blame for the upsurge of HIV infections along the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya.
Discrimination, and disinheritance, which are psychological forms of violence, has left women in this region vulnerable and at a higher risk of getting into sex slavery and disease infections.
According to Nelson Otwoma, the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/Aids in Kenya (NEPHAK), many widows relocate to the beaches in search of shelter after their in-laws stripped them of all property.
While the law of Kenya protects widows from being disinherited, the women themselves are not aware of their rights. They also do not have a place to turn to for support due to ignorance.
“The increase in HIV and Aids cases is as a result of these women who resort to having relationships with fishermen as they look for income,” said Otwoma during the Governor’s First Ladies meeting in Nairobi.
According to the National Aids Control Council (NACC) nationally, HIV prevalence is 5.6 percent, but this varies regionally with the highest being Nyanza at 15.3 percent and the lowest being North Eastern at less than one percent.
Land has been at the centre of many controversies in Kenya. While there existed a law, customs, religion and practices relating to land and property that discriminated the vulnerable and marginalised in society, things are changing.
The Constitution acknowledges that men and women have equal rights to land, but the day-to-day reality is very different as women are often denied their rights, chased away and their property taken over by their in-laws. Many cultures have denied women the right to acquire, own, inherit and transfer land.
According to Otwoma, women who are disinherited do not know that they can look up to human rights activists and organisations to come to their rescue. He urged women leaders at the County level to help protect widow’s property ownership for their good and that of their children.
“Traditional practices which assign land titles and inheritance to males must be discouraged if the fight against HIV and Aids is to be won,” Otwoma noted.
Disparity in access to land is one of the major causes for social and economic inequalities between males and females in rural areas. This situation jeopardizes food security at the household level and has an impact on national food security and development, often leading to high levels of domestic gender violence.
Otwoma observed that the adoption of circumcision by communities that do not originally circumcise, use of condoms and provision of anti-retroviral has helped reduce deaths of HIV Aids positive Kenyans. They are about one million of them.
He called on the County governments to be sensitive and increase the budget for HIV and Aids instead of concentrating their allocations on infrastructure and education.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2008-2009, eight percent of women are infected with HIV. The KDHS indicates that the social and economic background of a woman has a bearing on her chances of experiencing physical violence. The prevalence of physical violence generally increases with the age of a woman as well as with the number of living children she has.
In many societies, including Kenya, women are socialised to accept, tolerate, and even rationalise domestic violence and to remain silent about such experiences even when they are being denied what is rightfully theirs.
According to KDHS 60.3 per cent of women who are divorced or widowed have experienced violence since they were 15 years old.
Kenya is ranked fourth in the world on the number of women with HIV and Aids. Worldwide, Kenya registers one of the highest disparities in HIV prevalence between males and females; and with a female-to-male prevalence ratio at 1.9 to 1. This is higher than that found in most population based studies in Africa.
In urban populations prevalence among women is three times more than men (approximately 10 percent compared to 4 percent).
“The new infections that today stand at 59 percent is coming from seven Counties that includes Homa Bay County that is leading in HIV Aids prevalence in the country,” said Prof. Fred Segor, Health Principal Secretary in an interview.
Prof. Segor named the remaining Counties as Kisii, Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Mombasa and Nairobi adding that plans are underway to engage with the local residents in controlling the spread of infection.
Sexual transmission is the primary driver of Kenya’s epidemic. Various social factors-such as gender inequality, sexual violence and anti-HIV stigma – increase HIV risk and vulnerability..