Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Sex for fish: Kenyan women’s reluctant trade

Thomson Reuters Foundation, ABIMBO, Kenya

At midday in Abimbo on the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria, 32-year-old Rachel Atieno is busy spreading out her silver cyprinid fish to dry in the sun.

Atieno, a mother of five, has sold the fish since her husband died 10 years ago leaving her to support her family. With no other income, she was left with no option but to trade sex with the fishermen for a share of their catch.

Sex-for-fish, known locally as jaboya, is common practice in Abimbo in western Kenya’s Siaya County and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

“This jaboya thing will always be there. In fact it has increased due to the poverty in our area and those who do it do so because there is no other option,” Atieno said. “You might sell the fish you get today, but spend it on buying food and other basic things, so the next day you have to start afresh.”

Siaya is the county with the second-highest HIV prevalence in Kenya, with nearly a quarter of the population infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

As the fishermen bring ashore their nighttime catches in the early morning, the sight of women buying fish with money is rare. The currency is sex.

“In most cases, the best catch would go to those women who are ready to offer sex,” said Atieno, as her youngest children read a story book in the shade.

However, in Atieno’s case, she no longer has to engage in jaboya thanks to an income-generating project by the non-governmental group Challenge Africa that has given women such as her help with financial planning and access to credit.

Challenge Africa introduced “table banking” to Siaya, a concept in which the organization offers small start-up loans to women that they invest in their businesses, with the aim of bringing back sums that can in turn be loaned out to other members of the group at low interest rates.

“We all initially received a loan of 5,000 Kenyan shillings [US$50], and this has enabled me buy the silver cyprinid from the shores and also ensure I have something to put on the table for my children,” said Atieno, whose business is now sustainable enough for her to stop trading sex. “We have also been taken through simple classes on how to balance our books, and ensure that we understand profit and loss, and how to do business.”

As Atieno speaks, the rumble of generators and the occasional boom of explosives from local gold mines drift across the Lake Victoria shore.

Apart from selling fish, Atieno also cooks for the gold miners, paid for in a scoop of silt from the mine, which she sifts in the hope of finding gold deposits. A single gram of gold sells locally at about 3,000 Kenyan shillings.

Challenge Africa country director Edwin Ogillo says the organization, through its table-banking initiative and skills training workshops, has helped to increase the financial security of vulnerable women.

“After these trainings, the selected women were each given the US$50 loan to expand and strengthen their businesses as those we had selected were the ones that were already running businesses,” he said.

Ogillo said one of the aims of the project is to curb the high rates of HIV transmission, fueled by the practice of sex-for-fish.

“Here, people believe that HIV/AIDS only happens to people who might have done wrong to others, what they call chiraa, and so the issue of protected sex is rare,” he said. “This explains the high rates of HIV prevalence within the community and especially those around the lake who engage in jaboya.”

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