Kenya: Women reluctantly trade sex for fish on Lake Victoria shore (Trust)

| July 3, 2017

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It’s midday and Rachel Atieno is busy spreading out her silver cyprinid fish to dry in the sun. The 32-year-old has sold fish since her husband died 10 years ago, leaving her to support her family, which includes five children.

With no other income, she had no choice but to trade sex with fishermen. In return, she received a share of their catch.

Mrs. Atieno lives in Abimbo village, on the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria. Here, as the fishermen bring their catch ashore, it is rare to see women buying fish with money. The usual currency is sex. Sex-for-fish is known locally as jaboya. It is a common practice in Kenya’s Siaya County, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Mrs. Atieno says, “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.”

She explains, “You might sell the fish you get today, but spend [the money to buy] food and other basic things, so the next day you have to start afresh.”

Siaya has the second highest HIV prevalence of any county in Kenya; nearly one-quarter of the population is infected with the virus.

Mrs. Atieno explains jaboya as her youngest children read a storybook in the shade. She is one of the fortunate women who no longer engages in the practice, thanks to an income-generating project from the NGO, Challenge Africa.

This organization introduced the idea of “table-banking,” in which Challenge Africa offers small start-up loans to women who invest in their own businesses. The women meet regularly, and bring their savings and loan repayments to the group. The group can then recycle these payments to other members.

Mrs. Atieno explains: “We all initially received a loan of 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($47 US), and this enabled me to buy the silver cyprinid from the shores, and also ensure I have something to put on the table for my children.”

She also attended classes on financing, and learned to balance her books so she can maintain enough profit to purchase fish rather than trading sex.

As Mrs. Atieno speaks, we can hear the rumble of generators and the occasional boom of explosives from local gold mines. Apart from selling fish, Mrs. Atieno also cooks for the gold miners, receiving payment in the form of a scoop of silt from the mine. She sifts it in the hope of finding gold. One gram of gold sells locally for about 3,000 Kenyan shillings ($28 US).

Edwin Ogillo is the Kenya country director for Challenge Africa. He says skills training and table-banking have helped increase the financial security of vulnerable women. He adds that one of the project goals is to curb the high rates of HIV transmission in this area, a rate that is fuelled by the practice of sex-for-fish.

He says: “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. This explains the high rates of HIV prevalence within the community, and especially those around the lake who engage in jaboya.”

The practice not only affects the fishermen and the women selling fish, but also the wives of fishermen.

Millicent Omondi is the 40-year-old wife of gold miner and ex-fisherman, Ezekiel Omondi. Both she and her husband are infected with HIV—which Ezekiel blames on having sex with other women when he was a fisherman.

Mrs. Omondi is now benefiting from the table-banking project, using the investment to support her kiosk in the local market. Her sales provide her with money for food and other household needs to support the couple’s four children.

This story is based on an article titled, “Sex for fish: Women’s reluctant trade on Kenya’s Lake Victoria shore.” To read the full article, go to:

Photo: Rachel Atieno dries her fish. Credit: Domonic Kirui / Thomson Reuters Trust