Thursday, October 23, 2008


This journal abstract caught my eye while searching for something else having to do with economics and HIV risk:

Women and Fish-for-Sex: Transactional Sex, HIV/AIDS and Gender in African Fisheries

Christophe Bénéa and Sonja Mertenb

WorldFish Center, Africa Regional Office, Cairo, Egypt; University of Basel, Switzerland
Accepted 22 May 2007. Available online 10 March 2008.


This paper analyzes the phenomenon of fish-for-sex in small-scale fisheries and discusses its apparent links to HIV/AIDS and transactional sex practices. The research reveals that fish-for-sex is not an anecdotal phenomenon but a practice increasingly reported in many different developing countries, with the largest number of cases observed in Sub-Saharan African inland fisheries. An overview of the main narratives that attempt to explain the occurrence of FFS practices is presented, along with other discourses and preconceptions, and their limits discussed. The analysis outlines the many different and complex dimensions of fish-for-sex transactions. The paper concludes with a set of recommendations.

Key words: artisanal fisheries; vulnerability; poverty; public health; Africa

It's actually a pretty thoughtful article and among other things makes sure we don't oversimplify the fish-for-sex phenomenon which I have to say I was immediately tempted to do. For instance, one thing that I didn't think about right off the bat was that "[W]omen fish traders—whatever way they ‘purchase’ the fish, i.e., with cash or through sexual arrangement—are economically productive agents within the fisheries sector... [and are] fully integrated in the fish value-chain" which despite the absurdity of that last phrase, appears to actually be a fair point (see below).

"Women engaging in FFS transactions are often depicted as sex-workers by their own community/society, conveying more or less explicitly a link between FFS and prostitution. While prostitution undeniably exists in the sector and fishers are certainly one of the socio-professional groups which have the most frequent contacts with sex-workers, assimilating FFS to sex-workers is socially and economically questionable. In particular, it does not acknowledge the fact that women fish traders—whatever way they ‘purchase’ the fish, i.e., with cash or through sexual arrangement—are economically productive agents within the fisheries sector: like any other fish traders, they process, transport, and retail fish. They are thus fully integrated in the fish value-chain, in contrast to sex-workers who do not create direct value-added in the sector.

"The association FFS-prostitution is also recurrently brought forward as part of the narrative of the poor, destitute woman who is forced to prostitute herself to buy fish—cf. Table 4. Although it can hardly be denied that female fish traders can be remarkably vulnerable to poverty—in particular the widows, single mothers, or divorced women—assuming a systematic link between extreme poverty and transactional sex may be too simplistic to capture the complexity of the factors leading women to engage in FFS. In particular it does not reflect the fact that women are socially active agents who may rationally choose their behaviors and negotiate the nature and continuance of their relationships with their partners. What, instead, the quotations listed in Table 4 may illustrate is that a large part of the literature essentially from NGOs and advocacy groups that focus on addressing extreme destitution and poverty among vulnerable groups (and in particular women) tend to use extensively or to instrumentalize the narrative of 'the poor woman who is forced to prostitute herself to survive' in order to draw public attention to their own cause."

"The existing documents reporting FFS indicate that a large proportion of the women who engage in FFS are widows, divorced or single women, re-emphasizing the relatively high vulnerability of this group to poverty and thereby reflecting the safety-net role that fish trading activities traditionally play for a large number of poor women, especially in Africa. This link between FFS and female fish traders’ vulnerability has been captured and reflected in a certain number of narratives and discourses which attempt to explain the occurrence of these practices. The most frequent one is probably the miserabilism narrative where FFS is viewed as a 'strategy for survival' and women engaging in FFS as victims. Linked to this perception and reinforcing it is the very frequent confusion made between FFS and prostitution. While this article demonstrates why this confusion is disputable, it also recognizes that the increasing vulnerability of female traders is a reality which certainly reduces the negotiation/transaction power of these women, and also encourages fishers to impose these FFS transactions through 'no-deal no-fish' coercive arrangements. At the same time, the new institutional economic approach proposes an alternative to the miserabilism narrative and highlights the transactional dimension of FFS practices, suggesting that the lack of cash may not systematically be the only determinant that leads women to engage in FFS. Surely, there is no contradiction between these two interpretations. Social structures or institutions, class, gender inequality, kinship, and marriage do have a bearing on women’s decisions, but those must still be seen as social actors with some power to negotiate."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Women who get cash for sex also contribute to the "fish-value chain" by paying for the fish with the cash proceeds of the sex. I fail to see the difference.

By spending their cash, they have agency; they support children and contribute to the fast circulation of money through the economy, as well as the circulation of STDs. (same as the fish-wives)

No one who still breathes is completely without agency; no one who is victimized is a completely free agent. Any time women get fish or cash, they live a few days longer, and so do their children.