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African Widows Refuse Forced Re-Marriage

In some African countries when a woman's husband dies, it is common for her to marry one of his brothers. For many families, this ensures someone will take care of the widow and her children, and that she remains part of her husband's family. But some African widows are refusing orders to marry when their husbands die. Reporter Phuong Tran has more from Dakar on why some families are rethinking this tradition.

In this film called Tree in the Wind, village leaders in an African country decide a widow must follow tradition and marry one of her husband's brothers.

MOVIE: "I have come to a decision. Hashir's widow, once her mourning is over, she will marry her deceased husband's brother, Sharif. Agreed? Agreed."

A girl then talks to her grandmother because she is worried her uncle Hashir may have died of AIDS, and that his possibly-infected wife may pass the virus to her new husband, who has other wives.

MOVIE DAUGHTER: "What is the right thing to do when following our traditions might affect our health?" she asked. "Traditions [are] protected, lives are not."

MOVIE GRANDMOTHER: "Granddaughter, it is our responsibility to protect them both."

This movie produced by Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun came out of a contest in Africa organized by the U.S.-based non profit organization Global Dialogues.

Youths submit film scripts about AIDS every year. Winning ideas are made into short films by well-known African filmmakers.

Contest co-founder Daniel Enger, based in Burkina Faso, says the contest has had numerous entries on the topic of wife inheritance, where a man marries the widow of his brother.

"Some young people advocated a complete end to wife inheritance," he said. "Others said when it comes to changing long standing traditions, which can pose a problem when it comes to HIV transmission, we have to be respectful of the tradition, but at the same time, work gradually towards a change in the phenomenon."

Senegalese sociologist Djiby Diakhate says HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), which can lead to AIDS, is one reason wife inheritance is less common in urban areas than rural ones.

"In urban areas, HIV is more known, whereas people in rural areas are more fatalistic about why people die," he explained. "They say it is God's will."

But Diakhate says as more city dwellers visit their home villages, they bring back information about HIV, as well as, different ideas about marriage.

The sociologist says this is how traditions normally change.

At the end of the film, Tree in the Wind the village elder reminds the widow change may be necessary for survival.

MOVIE: "Our traditions resemble a tree deeply rooted in the ground. Where in a strong wind, a tree must be flexible. It bends, or it falls."