Siaya women who shunned ‘sex for fish’

Roseline Adhiambo, chair of Watemo Women Group, at the group's pig farm in Bondo. [Kevine Omollo, Standard]

It is a bright Wednesday morning, and Roseline Adhiambo is addressing 17 women seated under a tree while pigs oink inside an adjacent structure.

This meeting takes place every Wednesday, and on this day, the women are assessing their new venture, pig farming. The women were fish traders at Siungu Beach in Bondo, Siaya County, but many have since abandoned the trade.

And this meeting at the leased eighth of an acre parcel of land in Got Agulu village along Bondo-Usenge road provides a forum to reflect on their journey out of ‘sex for fish’ bondage.

“We got tired of the exploitation, and started a new life,” said Adhiambo.

According to Adhiambo, their Watemo Women Group was in 2019 picked as one of the 15 groups in Siaya and Homa Bay counties to benefit from the ‘Economic Justice Programme’.

The project funded by the Open Society Foundation and implemented by Kenya Female Advisory Organisation targeted to empower women around Lake Victoria.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but I thank God I made it. I have not regretted it,” said Adhiambo.

Adhiambo, 42, got into the fish business in 2000, buying different types of fish at the beach before deep-frying and selling in the nearby market centres. But with the dwindling fish stocks and the emergence of fishermen demanding sex from female traders before supplying them with fish, Adhiambo said she had no option, but to give in.

And with new traders joining, the taste of the perpetrators of sex for fish slowly abandon the older women for the young ones, hence competition. In 2019, Adhiambo says she came across people teaching women economic independence, which would get them out of exploitation by the male fisher folks.

“I was part of a group of women engaged in merry go round (a primordial form of table banking), and we quickly thought the idea is good and timely,” said Adhiambo.

The group quickly formalised its registration and did a proposal for funding. They were lucky to be picked. They first ventured into fish farming through cage fishing but did not succeed due to what she termed as government bureaucracy in setting up the project.

It was then that the group settled on pig farming, which is fast proving to be a profitable venture. According to Adhiambo, who now chairs the women group, they started with eight pigs.

“We thought the fish-related business would still predispose us to the illicit sex for fish business. We needed to have a break,” she said.

Leah Achieng, a mother of six, had been dealing in the fish trade since 2002. The 50-year-old resident of Urima village said she was influenced to join the group by friends.

“Some of my friends were hesitant about the idea, but I needed an alternative source of livelihood,” she said.

Sarah Adhiambo, 37, also helped with the mobilisation of the women after a session with the project implementers. Her story is similar to that of Mary Julia, who supported pig farming.

“Caring for poultry is demanding, and we needed something which we could manage. Pigs also sire many piglets, and their survival rate is higher,” she said.

Today, the women have over 40 pigs and are looking into expanding the trade after the business proved viable. The women say the change has since opened doors for them. The change, the women say, have since opened doors for them, and their vision is to liberate fish trade along the neighbouring beaches.

“Only desperate people exchange fish with their bodies, but now that we are empowered,” said Adhiambo.