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Ladies of the night also feel pinch of economic dip

By X N Iraki | October 31st 2017
Prostitutes park in search of customers. (PHOTO COURTESY)

NAIROBI, KENYA: Economists, the high priests of social sciences, are known for using big terms to explain simple things.

A good example is gross domestic product (GDP) which in simple terms is the monetary value of all goods and services produced in a given country in a given year.

If this value goes up the following year or quarter, we say the economy is growing. We factor in inflation to get the real GDP instead of nominal GDP.

We shall leave the specifics of how GDP is measured for another day but offer you a quick guide to satisfy your curiosity.

Income approach

GDP can be measured by adding up all the income of individuals and corporations plus taxes, less subsidies. We call this the income approach.

In expenditure approach, we add up our consumption, investment, government expenditure and net exports.  Your value is the money you make or use. Is it simpler now?

Can we be less complicated?  What other measure of economic growth can we use? Can we avoid calculations or hard data and use our eyes or observation.

Let us look at a controversial measure of economic growth or state of economic health-the waiting time for commercial sex workers.

These young women (there could be men too) take to streets after sunset; one reason to disguise their identity and two, that is when clients are available.

A detailed analysis of who is likely to go for commercial sex would be great research.

After all, behavioural economics won the economics Nobel Prize this year.

When I once asked a group of men if they have ever dallied with commercial sex, the number of hands that went up surprised me. 

The high number of hands was because of their broader definition of commercial sex to include mistresses or gacungwas or mpago wa kando. 

It is not clear what business model commercial sex workers use to get their clients.

They, however, advertise their services mostly at intersections for instance at Westlands Road /Chiromo Lane or Muthithi Road/Chiromo Lane.

How would I know? You may ask. I use this route in the evening on my way home.

Such intersections provide higher chances of encountering prospective clients.  Scant dressing exposing “strategic parts” of the body enhances their probability of getting into the market.

Poor lighting also enhances their appeal, not disregarding the soberness of their clients at that time of the night.

My research seems to suggest that Koinange Street has lots of competition nowadays. What of other towns and cities?

Back to economics.  If the economy is doing well, commercial sex workers would take a shorter time to get into the market or get clients.

The same would apply to time taken by taxi drivers or shopkeepers to get their next customer. 

This leads to an interesting observation. The latest  time  of the night  when  commercial sex workers are still on the streets can be a good proxy measure of  economic growth.

Second client

The longer they wait before getting a “customer”, the more the likelihood that the economy is doing badly.

If commercial sex workers clear from “the market” by 9pm instead of 11pm, then we could argue that the economy is doing better.

We are assuming that commercial sex workers do not return for a second client or better there is no queuing. 

Have you noted lately that commercial sex workers are out on the streets much later in the night than in the recent past?

This is a clear sign that they are also feeling the pinch of economic downturn occasioned by the 60 days of uncertainty after the annulled presidential poll and the drought preceding that.

When the economy is doing badly, the clients probably start seeing partaking the services of commercial sex workers as a “luxury” not a necessity.

It is also possible that poor economic prospects draw men to commercial sex to drown their sorrows just like alcohol. But these are likely to be “low quality “clients. Can commercial sex workers share their secrets with me? How do your clientele change as the economy changes from boom to recession?  When is the “peak” season? 

Equal measures

When we think of the ravages of economic slowdown, we forget these “other hustlers” loathed and liked in equal measures. Yet they too are at the mercy of economic laws of supply and demand.

One of the most interesting pieces of research I would love to pursue is finding out if an economic downturn leads to lowering of “service prices” by commercial sex workers to lure more customers to the market; make money from volume instead of single unit.

When the economy is doing badly, we get offers like buy one get one free. 

What are equivalent offers in commercial sex market?

Do commercial sex workers look for alternative hustles when the economy is doing poorly?  What of men being drugged and robbed?

We have said little about high- end commercial sex workers that do not need to wait for nightfall and often disguise their profession with other fancy terms.

The dynamics of this old profession has barely been scratched by local economists. Watch this space.

The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi



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