St. Monica Village is a cooperative for HIV-infected widows that has been set up with the intention to empower its members through providing income generating activities which enable them to sustain the livelihoods of their families. HIV-infected widows are one of the most vulnerable groups in Kenyan society. They face social exclusion and harassment. The cooperative currently has 250 members who work in joint projects and support each other as a group.
In some areas in Western Kenya the HIV infection rate exceeds 20%. This is due to widespread common practices such as polygamy and widow inheritance. The disease often remains unrecognized with men, while women are being tested when they are pregnant and thus benefit from medical treament. According to traditional beliefs however, a widow has to be passed on within the husbands family. Those who refuse are being stigmatized and harassed within their communities and suffer from poverty.
St. Monica Village is a cooperative for widows that offers support to HIV-infected widows by providing assistance, capacity building and income generating activities. The cooperative has its own kindergarden where the widows children are being supervised and cared for while their mothers are working. With a catering service, handiworks, gardening and keeping small domestic animals the widows are able to sustain their families despite social exclusion. They also give each other moral support.
The project promotes womens rights and helps to restore the respect for HIV-infected widows within male-dominated communities. The cooperative provides refuge for HIV-infected women who have lost their husbands and experience social exclusion. The women are able to share experiences regarding medical treatment and life with the disease in general. The project will make a major contribution to fighting outdated, inhumane traditions such as widow cleansing and widow inheritance.