Skip to content

Saving Women Living in Lake Chad from the Sharks

Across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the three countries that abut Lake Victoria, small-scale fish farming is helping boost food security and family incomes. It’s also allowing women to sidestep sexual exploitation. Lake Victoria is the world’s largest freshwater fishery, supporting the livelihoods of 4 million people. But while fish stocks remain steady at best, the region’s human population is growing 3.5 percent every year — among the fastest in the world. That’s adding to the competition for limited fish. Jaboya — or “sex for fish” — has grown into a common phenomenon across the Great Lakes region. Women, who are “traditionally involved in selling but not catching fish,” are forced to give sexual favors to secure their share of catches, explains Chris Macoloo of the Oklahoma City-headquartered global nonprofit World Neighbors. Thanks in part to jaboya, almost a quarter of people living around the lakeshore have HIV — compared with national averages of around 5 percent for all three countries. Fish farming is promising to change that, offering women a chance to earn without depending on catches from the lake, or on men. In Kenya’s North Nyakach ward, home to 42,000 people, HIV infection rates have dropped 20 percent and household incomes have surged 32 percent since World Neighbors launched a program encouraging fish farming, says Macoloo. Most smallholder farmers are women. And for female fish traders, it’s safer to buy from female, as opposed to male, fish farmers. World Neighbors is currently setting up similar initiatives in Uganda and Tanzania.