Women who sell fish say the practice of exchanging sex for fish is still rampant in communities on the shores of Lake Malawi.
The women told npr.org that both fishermen and female fish traders initiate the transactional sex.
German photojournalist Julia Gunther spent nearly a month in several villages in Malawi in 2018 and spoke to women engaged in the practice.
Some women said they take a fisherman’s catch with a promise to pay after making sales. However, the women face may difficulties selling the fish and decide to pay off the debt through sex.
Sometimes, the woman sell the fish but the fisherman tells her to keep the money and instead have sex with him.
“The fishermen want to mostly have unprotected sex,” said a 39-year-old woman in Chisamba Village who sells fish and sometimes engages in transactional sex. “They don’t like condoms.”
A 35-year-old the mother of three said she’ll say to fishermen on the beach, “I don’t have money but I want fish.’ Then we agree to have sex in return for the fish. That happens maybe once per week.”
There are also women who used to engage in the practice but have now move on.
One of them is Chrissy Masala who for five years would have sex with fisherman and be paid with fish which she would sell at local markets and big cities.
Masala stopped the practise after she saved enough money to open a saloon.
“I decided to stop because of the stigma and discrimination against me,” she told Gunther of the years when she traded sex for fish. “I was judged by others … my parents, my children. Even I judged myself,” she said.
There are concerns that HIV is spread through the practice and the women want a solution to address the issue.
In Kenya, where fish for sex also happens, an initiative was introduced to ensure women have their own boats so that they could hire men to fish for them instead of relying on fishermen.
One group of women formed a cooperative called No Sex For Fish Women’s Group buy boats with motors that could go deeper into the lake, where fish would be more plentiful than in the overfished waters close to shore.
Businessperson Dave Okech is also working with 200 fish sellers who get fish from fish farms rather than fishermen.
To join his network, fish farms must agree to and sign a code of conduct to follow environmentally sound fish farming techniques and “not to engage in any activity that may lead to sex for fish,” he says. If violations are reported, the fish farm will be dropped from the network.