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Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Jaboya: The Fish for Sex Trade
Before living on the islands we had known that commercial sex was a problem on the islands leading to the spread of HIV. However, commercial sex to us meant a few prostitutes in the local bar selling sex for extra cash to the fisherman who could afford it. What we have come to understand through living in these areas and hearing the stories of those who live there, is that the exchange of sex is not an isolated practice, but a system which the fishing society revolves around.
The system, locally called "jaboya," involves the trade of a sexual relationship for the ability to obtain fish for sale. The men catch the fish, and women sell the fish locally, where others are sent for export. In order for a woman to obtain fish to sell locally, she must have a relationship with a fisherman. Without a boyfriend, a woman has little chance of having access to fish when the boats come in. The more relationships she has, the more likely she is to be able to obtain fish. If the woman wants to transport her fish to local markets aboard matatus, she often is forced to once again exchange sex with the "tauts" (or men who load the roofs of the trucks) in order to get their fish transported.
It is difficult to describe, but this is a system that goes much deeper than standard prostitution. Indeed, there are still "bar-girls" or commercial sex workers in the bars in these areas. However, the jaboya system is a social and economic system that pervades every aspect of these societies. The jaboya women are forced into having multiple sexual relationships with migrant fisherman and tauts in order to provide what is necessary for them and their children to survive. Often they are women widowed by HIV positive fisherman who have no other way of providing for their families.
In order for change to be made in this area, the structural violence of the jaboya system must be broken. An effective intervention must address the fishing industry, poverty, as well as the medical aspects of HIV.