Poor African women who engage in a practice known as “sex for fish” to ensure they get supplies of fish to sell in the marketplace, are among those most at risk of HIV infection.
The main targets of this practice are the most economically vulnerable women, mostly widows or those who are divorced, across sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Eldis, an online information service on international development issues, sex for fish trade:
mostly occurs inland, particularly in lake fisheries;
not all women engaging in the practice are “victims”: some take an active, albeit unequal, part in the transaction;
fishermen sometimes force female traders into having sex by refusing to sell fish to them otherwise.
“We are very poor here. Offering our bodies to fishermen in exchange for fish is an easy way of acquiring fish for sale,” a young woman from Mangochi, Malawi told American Renaissance.
The incidence of HIV among these fishing communities is often many times higher than that of the general population, according to a 2006 report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives and National Aid Council in Zambia.
According to the report, fisherfolk are particularly susceptible to HIV/AIDS due to neglect by government and the public service sector, inadequacy of social infrastructure and health services, and high levels of mobility, or fluidity of “marital” relationships.
It also noted a predominance of sexually active men living away from their home communities, cash incomes, availability of beer sellers and sex workers, and limited livelihood diversification.
In addition, women are more at risk of HIV infection due to the unequal power relations that make them socially and economically dependent on men.
In Kenya the practice of trading sex for fish is known as “jaboya”.
An estimated 27,000 women are involved in the fish trade only in the province of Nyanza either directly or indirectly, according to the Ministry of Fisheries.
The “No Sex for Fish” project established a women’s cooperative on Nyamware beach, Kenya that brought enterprising women together to purchase their own boats and gain their own economic foothold in the local economy.
Charles Okal, the provincial AIDS and sexually transmitted infections coordinator for Nyanza said efforts to reach out to fishing communities with HIV prevention messages have begun to show results, but the continued poverty of women means they remain vulnerable.