This series, made possible by a grant from the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), looks at the skewed gender dynamics in the relationship between fishermen and female fish traders across southern Malawi, the reasons behind the so-called fish-for-sex trade, and its effects on those who engage in it.
A major driver of the AIDS crisis in Malawi, fish-for-sex refers to an ‘arrangement’ between female fish traders and fishermen, in which the traders engage in a short-or long term sexual relationship to get fish to sell on the market. Women receive more fish if they agree to have unprotected sex, and because both the fishermen and fish traders move around in search of lucrative fishing areas or markets, the probability of contracting HIV is high.
In many areas in Malawi, fish-for-sex is commonplace, although the manner in which it occurs often differs. Fishermen and fish traders, who almost only female, negotiate how many litres of fish should be traded for an hour or a night. The agreement can be between a fisherman and a sex worker, a fish trader, or a woman looking to buy fish for her own consumption. In some areas this happens out in the open, and in others they hide the trade. Sometimes sex is used as a direct payment, as a bonus, or a ‘fine’ for not repaying a loan.
Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.