Despite many campaigns to end the practice, sex-for-fish trade in Lake Victoria is still prevalent. However, women are now taking it upon themselves to end the practice which has led to the spread of HIV/Aids in the region. A project dubbed No Sex For Fish aims to end the practice known as Jaboya in Dholuo.
The project, spearheaded by Victoria Institute For Research and Environmental Development International (VIRED), seeks to empower the women to own boats and employ fishermen. The project, which began in 2011, operates in Nyamware, Nduru and now Ogenya beaches in Kisumu East district.
Women groups in Nduru and Nyamware already have 10 boats and three are being constructed for a widows group in Ogenya.
VIRED’s field officer Dan Abuto says the project was started by Dominic Maclow who was a Peace Corps volunteer with the organisation and a physics teacher at Nyamware Mixed Secondary School.
“During his interaction with villagers, he discovered that the practice was rampant here. He began efforts to have it ended,” Abuto says.
He adds: “The project aims to address jaboya as a public health issue, lessen poverty and gender inequality while being both sustainable fiscally and environmentally.”
The projects, Abuto notes, gives women boats which are the means of production and they recruit fishing crews. “From the proceeds they make, they repay the cost of making the boat. The repayment money is pooled to construct more boats, increasing the number of women involved in the project whose ultimate aim is to empower them financially and stop the spread of HIV/Aids."
Pamela Auma is the chairperson of Ogenya No Sex For Fish Group. Auma is excited at the prospect of the group owning three boats.
“We have learnt a lot from our counterparts in Nyamware and Nduru. We are looking forward to the completion of the construction of our boats. We can’t wait for the launch,” an excited Auma told the Star as she monitored the construction of their boat.
She admits that Sex For Fish is rampant and will be a thing of the past if women own boats. “As a widow, I will be able to get a lot of money to pay fees for my children and save as a group so that we buy more boats."
The construction of the three boats is funded by Triza Okeyo who is based in St Louis in the US, together with her women's group, at a cost of Sh450,000. This amount includes the cost of buying fishing nets and safety gear. The construction of one boast costs Sh80,000.
Rose Achieng', the group’s secretary, says sex-for-fish will be a thing of the past at Ogenya Beach once they launch the boats.
Her views are shared by Ogenya Beach Management Unit chairman Boniface Owiti. “This project will completely change the face of this beach and improve not only the livelihoods of the women, but also the entire location,” he says.
The women groups, Owiti says, should be trained on business and financial management to enable them handle the project properly.
The HIV transmission levels will also go down because women will not be exchanging sex for fish which, he admits, is prevalent.
Lori Armstrong, a US Peace Corps volunteer, has vowed to take the project to the next level. “When I was coming to Kenya and was told about the project, I shed tears. I’m happy to be involved with these women and want to take this project forward,” she said in an interview.
“I will continue to monitor and teach best business practices prior to and after ownership is taken. I plan to launch water hyacinth training as a means of alternative income generation when catches are down or when the hyacinth prevents fishing,” she added.
Armstrong says the boats are fully equipped with nets and other fishing gear. The project’s founding director general Prof Joash Barrack Okeyo says they will extend the project to the more than 100 beaches in the lake.
Okeyo, who is a lecturer in Environmental Health and Ecosystem management at Eldoret University, adds: “We have the desire to extend the project from Busia to Migori. Already, 100 beaches have applied to participate in the project.”
“We are engaging women, more particularly widows, who are vulnerable and exposed to the practice. We try to encourage them to even get into fish farming,” Okeyo says.
According to Okeyo, the women are involved in the whole process of constructing boats. “They buy materials, pay carpenters and monitor the project until it is completed and launched. We want them to be fully involved so that they embrace it by participating effectively.”
The project will anchor other activities like beach sanitation, health improvement and fish farming, Okeyo says. “We also encourage the women to embrace fishing controls and environmental management. This being a rice growing area, we want them to embrace both rice and fish farming. If you tour the beaches, it is a poor state of affairs and we must change this,” Okeyo adds.
To improve accountability, the groups are required to file returns monthly. “They should run the groups as a business because the cost of construction must be repaid to their account,” Okeyo says.
The Kisumu County Government has installed 12 solar-powered storage facilities and Okeyo wants the county to benefit from the project. Okeyo adds that the fisheries department has also supported the project.
The Nduru and Nyamware groups, Okeyo says, have been successful and he hopes the Ogenya group will emulate them. When women own boats they will be members of Beach Management Units, according to Serena Adhiambo, a research associate student working with VIRED.
“By owning boats, this will give the women a voice and they will be members of BMU. The boats should also be given female names,” Adhiambo told the Star.
Kanyagwal location chief Elly Owiti says the prevalence of HIV/Aids in the area is high. “Jaboya is partly to blame for the HIV/Aids prevalence. If this project succeeds, the spread of the disease will come down,” Owiti says. His assistant, Nelson Onyango, says he will work closely with the women group to ensure that the project succeeds.