A story was published in the Daily Nation last week. The headline implied that women were exchanging their bodies for fish. I shook my head in sadness, but I didn’t read the full article until the next day. Basically, female fishmongers in certain parts of Nyanza can’t BUY fish unless they first have sex with the fishermen.
I’ve said over and over again that I’m not a feminist. I am – however – a woman, and this article maddened and saddened me on about a hundred levels. It goes beyond prostitution. It goes beyond simply selling my body for cash. It delves into a much darker region.
You see, these are not just women working on their backs. These are businesswomen, with business plans, and capital, and sales strategies. These are women with money. Their plan is to invest this money into products which they mark up and sell at a profit. Which is perfectly logical in this capitalist economy.
But no. They can’t buy these goods – which they have the money to pay for – unless they sleep with the sales people. So in effect, they’re paying for the goods AND for unwanted sex. They’re paying for it. Do you get that? They’re not being prostituted. They’re paying for sex that they don’t even want. What depravity is that?
Oh, and it’s not just sex and fish they’re paying for. They’re also paying for STDs. Diseases that can kill them, their husbands, and their children. Because some of these women are married. And they’re being forced to have sex with strange men in order to BUY fish to feed their families. So on top of everything else – pun fully intended – they’re basically paying to be infected by AIDS.
You might say guys do this all the time. You might say every time a man has sex without a condom (whether he’s paying for it or not) he’s doing the exact same thing. It’s not though. The man chooses to have sex without a condom. These women are forced to have sex with fishermen – without condoms – and when they’re done, they give these same men money for fish. How does this even make sense?
How did this start? Do those big strapping fishermen who have abs of steel and spend days in the cold merciless lake have trouble getting girls? Do they get so lonely on the waves and have women turn away from them when they land because they smell of fish?
Did one of them get up one day and think, ‘Well, the women who buy our fish don’t mind the smell, so why not force them to sleep with us?’ If he did, he’s probably dead by now, since the AIDS prevalence among the fishermen and the women they sell to is painfully high.
Both men and women go through hell make money and feed their families. They work hard build castles, make schemes, source capital, do what they need to do. But it pains me beyond tolerance that a woman who has the skill, the mind, AND the capital to run a successful business is STILL forced to sleep with some man to get her work done.
Smarter people than me have talked about a woman’s body being a weapon and a battleground, but this sex for fish story has angered me way past philosophy and statistics. Fortunately, it has a happy ending. 20 of the female fishmongers have joined an NGO that buys them boats (on loan) and helps them run their own fishing fleets so they no longer have to pay to be humiliated, exploited, and infected with AIDS, just because they have the heart to run a successful business.
♫ That particular time ♫ Alanis Morrisette ♫