Friday, July 07, 2006

Structural Violence: Fishing, Women, and HIV on Lake Victoria


In the Suba District, where the HIV prevalence rate is over 40%, the women suffer the most devastating plight in life. The islands of Lake Victoria are dominated by the fishing industry of omena (minnows), tilapia, and Nile Perch. In this poverty-stricken area, fishing provides the men with a quick reward of hard cash at the end of the catch, which is often spent the following day. As some days the catch is large and other days the fishermen are left empty-handed, life here is lived on a day-by-day basis. For the women however, there is little to no ability to raise their own income, as the fishing is solely done by men. One of the only ways to raise money is to sell the fish caught by the men. In order to sell fish on an island, a woman must have a connection to a fisherman, usually a sexual relationship, to obtain daily catch for the market. With little other option to obtain money for food, the woman are stripped of their personal agency and forced by structural violence into a life of polygamy, poverty, and HIV.

In search of the best catch, the men travel each week from island to island. As they skip from place to place with little respect for establishing permanent living conditions besides a tin hut, the women, often pregnant with their children, are left to fend for themselves with no source of money. With the migration of fisherman follows the rapid spread of HIV throughout the islands, leaving women wasting away without even the money to travel to the mainland for medication.

The poverty cycle continues as young woman, raised by mothers in poverty, begin to attend school. Often without funds to buy proper clothes, most have no money to provide sanitary napkins once they hit a maturing age. Local teachers note that the young girls often will be absent each month for one week during their period. Others who attend school will need to go down to the beach when their clothes are soiled to wash in the water. These are the same beaches inhabited by fisherman coming back with their quick cash from the daily catch. The young girls are frequently offered money for hygiene products, food, and clothes they could otherwise not afford. Teen pregnancy, HIV, and the poverty cycle continue to propogate.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

i have read your article with great concerns,what the women in the island go through is very disheartening,am an MPH student at moi university in kenya and is interested in doing a study in mfangano island on hiv/aids,if you have any articles on uptake of vct please do assist me

Kevin Messacar said...

We would love to get in contact with you in regards to a HIV/AIDS/VCT study of the islands. Post or send us your contact information (kmessaca@umich.edu or johnkurap@yahoo.com ; 0726944715 in Kenya)
Thanks- Kevin and John