The scenery in Africa is great, that cannot be doubted. European women cannot get enough of it, but beyond the scenery, there is a new attraction drawing them in. When they want to have a good time no one will know about back at home where they are held in high esteem, they come to Africa. Older women from Europe and North America are now known to frequent African resorts in pursuit of ‘sexcapades’ as they are called. Young men stage-manage romantic affairs with the older European women and get to wine and dine with them. But who are these women? Are they not preying on poverty?
Female Sex Tourists…who are they?
In 2007, Reuters ran a story on the Kenyan sex tourism phenomenon detailing the story of one Bethan (then aged 56) and her best friend Allie (then aged 64) who were on their first holiday to Kenya. They said the country was “just full of big young boys who like us older girls”. Jake Grieves-Cook, then chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board answering a question about the perception of sex-tourism said, “It’s not evil but it’s certainly something we frown upon.”
Indeed there was reason to frown as the use of protection is not guaranteed yet HIV/AIDS is one of the big issues being tackled in African countries. Julia Davidson, a Nottingham University fellow’s findings were that some women shunned condoms and regarded them as too “businesslike” for their needs. So are all the women as old as Bethan and Allie? It would seem like it. Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Matty Silver said women in particular wealthy, single and older white women plan holidays to have romance and sex with companions who make them feel special. These are broken women and those with urges they would be judged for in their societies. Kenyan author of Sex Tourism in Africa, Kenya’s Booming Industry, Dr Wanjohi Kibicho says, “These women are lonely. Among all the women I talked to, there is an impression of something lacking at home, like their needs are not being met – not only sexual but also psychological and emotional support.” Africa is their perfect get away. However, there is an inherent flaw in the evaluation of the practice. Male sex tourism has for long been labelled as exploitation but very rarely is that said for female sex tourism. What causes those double standards?
A case of double standards
In the 2012 film, Paradise: Love the Austrian director Ulrich Seidl gave everyone what W24 called “a candid look into the world of sex tourism”. The protagonist is an overweight woman who comes to Kenya’s Mombasa where she has casual sex with buff young locals and spends money “left right and centre. Often on a family member who suddenly comes down with some sort of ailment”. These convenient illnesses are most likely staged to siphon out even more money. The W24 publication interestingly then says, “In the end you’re left wondering, who’s exploiting whom?” This immediately exposes the double standards culture that almost always calls out men but conveniently leaves out women engaging in the same practice. Surely gender equality should not gag people from calling a spade a spade.
Male sex tourism has for long been regarded as exploitative behaviour but somehow the story changes when it comes to the female version of the same trade. The ladies cover their tracks by claiming they are not buying sex but they are helping out the young men financially. In her clichéd defence, Reuters’ interviewee, Bethan said, “It is a social arrangement. I buy him a nice shirt and we go out for dinner. For as long as he stays with me he doesn’t pay for anything, and I what I want – a good time. How is that different from a man buying a young girl dinner?”
However, Julie Bindel, a political activist and founder of Justice for Women advises the world not to buy into these women’s delusions. She says, “The exploitation endemic in prostitution does not disappear when women are the buyers.”
Why sugar-coat it? These women are coming to Africa to buy sex and the moment they do, they engage in prostitution (however they may try to sanctify it as a mutually beneficial activity). Female sex tourism is the expression of racial and economic dominance. This is as Nottingham University’s Davidson said, a return to the colonial past where white women were “served, serviced, and pampered by black minions”.
A Canadian woman interviewed by Bindel unwittingly exposed the exploitative nature of the trade though she had denied it being prostitution. She said, “If he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t get to eat. End of story.” This starts to sound like slave-driver rhetoric.
Whatever diplomatic arrangement of words they may use to support themselves, the female sex tourists are exploitative and should be called out for their unwholesome fetishes. It is not love they come looking for, they are here for the sex and for the dominance.