Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A fishy sex trade in Kenya

From IRIN, a group of women are organizing against a Kenyan sex trade, but find that poverty is not only the sex trade's cause it also keeps them from fighting it.

If you were a fishmonger in Kisumu, a city on Lake Victoria in western Kenya, you would have to sleep with the fishermen to get stock to sell so you could make a living. A year ago Lucy Agoya got fed up with the practice and rallied a few women to take a stand against it.

So far the group has only attracted 28 members. "Many tell me my work is like rain in a lake - it has no value ... Selling fish here makes money, and I know many women say they would rather have sex and have the money than not do it and remain poor," Agoya told IRIN/PlusNews.

"Many women selling fish have died of HIV and many are sick; we have been living at the mercy of fishermen who demand sex before they can give you fish. We have resolved to only buy fish with money and not with our bodies."

The widespread practise of exchanging sexual favours for fish, known as 'jaboya', has been associated with the high HIV prevalence in Nyanza Province, where the fish in Lake Victoria are the main source of income for more than 286,000 fishermen, fish traders and processors, boat builders and net manufacturers, and a host of other people in fish-related activities.

A 2008 Modes of (HIV) Transmission Study, put prevalence in the fishing communities at between 25 and 30 percent, nearly double Nyanza's average infection rate of 15.3, which was twice the national average.

The study also found that fishing communities were not being adequately covered by national HIV programmes, but those implemented so far seem to have had little impact.

"We have in place programmes ... that educate the fishing community on the benefits of condom use, having one partner, and the male circumcision programme," said Dr Charles Okal, provincial control officer for AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

"We also support the approach of offering alternative means of earning income for women; I know the programmes in place addressing the problem will succeed, but it needs time."

Grinding poverty

Okal acknowledged that poverty was the biggest obstacle to ending jaboya; more than half of Nyanza's people live on less than a dollar a day.

"I have children to feed and take to school, and I also have rent to pay; selling fish is the only business I know ... if having sex with a fisherman will make it easier, let it be," said Mary Owenga, a single mother whose four children were fathered by different fishermen. "I know when I am old they will not want me; because I still look like a girl, let me use the opportunity."

Eliud Mboya, who started working as a fisherman when he finished high school four years ago, said there was little chance that jaboya would be eradicated any time soon.

"We do not force these women into having sex with us - it is a willing seller, willing buyer kind of thing. A man gives you fish, which is hard to come by these days, and further treats you to a dance in the evening with his money, just for having sex with him," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "Now tell me, what could be more attractive than that? Tell people to use condoms, but don't tell them, 'don't sleep with these people'."

Jennifer Kere, director of Women in Fishing Industry Project Trust, a local NGO, commented: "Many of the women fishmongers are single mothers and some are widows providing for their families - at times they take fish on credit, putting them at the mercy of the fishermen who use this opportunity to demand sexual favours."

She said female fishmongers often had little choice. "I believe that educating them to start other businesses alongside selling fish can help, because selling fish really doesn't have to be a matter of life and death. It is not easy for them to resist the appeal of easy money, but with time it might succeed."

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