The prevalence of poverty in many lakefront communities in Sub Saharan Africa compels people to engage in desperate activities in a bid to make ends meet. They are often left with no other option than to be involved in those precarious activities that pose serious risks to their health.
Of particular reference here is what happens at Lake Malawi. Fishing is a fundamental part of daily living in Malawian communities that are in proximity with lakes. So in most instances, a woman takes a fisherman's catch and promise to pay him once the she has made sufficient sales. But in most scenarios, the woman fails to make enough sales that produce the money to pay the fisherman, so she repays the man with sex. Sex as a way of "compensating" could come from either the man or the woman. It can be a tacit agreement or it can be fully an express agreement.
This transactional sex is not a new phenomenon, but one that is entrenched in these societies. But not everyone who engages in such is proud of it, as many fish traders do not want their neighbours to know about these dealings. It is secretive, so coming up with a number that shows the fishermen and fish sellers involved in this is difficult.
In a society where the presence of HIV is a real menace, the risk of spreading the virus unabated is just too high. Poverty just aggravates everything because people have limited opportunities to better their lives and make ends meet. It is a rough, cruel, perpetual cycle. This poverty is the reason why fighting HIV seemingly becomes an insurmountable battle.
"Poverty is the main reason for fish for sex," Kachikho says. "If you are poor, you are stuck."
One of the women who sells fish in Chisamba Village, Malawi, said, "The fishermen want to mostly have unprotected sex. They don't like condoms."
Now with such conditions thriving, it becomes difficult to beat HIV. And this is then perpetuated by abject poverty. Fishing spots along lakefronts are HIV hotspots. It is approximated that in Malawi, 1 in 10 adults ages 15 to 64 is HIV-positive according to UNAIDS.
Life is certainly hard for the women who undertake fish selling. Some of the fishermen may run away with their things. They take the fishing net. They are given money, and refuse to give the fish to the men. It's a difficult world.
Other women who find better opportunities leave this work behind them to start something new that does not put their lives at risk.
Trading fish for sex is just a tough setup for any woman really. And fighting HIV becomes difficult under these circumstances. But if there are more opportunities afforded to the women and genuine attempts at poverty reduction, the lives of women in these communities will definitely change.
Header image credit - NPR, ©️Julia Gunther