If there is one theme we’re hearing a lot while we travel around Kenya, it’s this: the future of Kenya specifically and Africa in general lies in the hands of women. This morning we met with Lee Anthony Brudvig, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the United States Embassy in Nairobi. He stressed that in order to attain economic growth and a stable food supply, women would be the gatekeepers of Kenyan agriculture. Agriculutral programs also pave a way for economic growth and stability for women and their children which is a big incentive for women to succeed as farmers. This, of course, is attainable in the rural areas, but what about the cities? How do some women earn money and provide for their household? We saw one example that I wasn’t expecting, but is a reality for some Kenyan women nevertheless.
When we were in Kisumu earlier this week we went to Dunga Beach on Lake Victoria. I learned so much during that visit with the CDC and UNAID especially about commercial sex workers on the beach. It took a bit of understanding, but this is how it works. Fishermen bring in the catch each day and women wait for them in order to purchase fish to sell at the market. Most often the women cannot afford to pay the full purchase price for the fish so they negotiate a price that includes sexual favors. The CDC and USAID got involved obviously because this is risky sexual behavior and the spread of HIV was rampant among the fishermen and women.
Through US-funded programs, women and men were educated about this behavior and were given HIV tests so the people would know their status and get their drugs. And as women often do, they also formed their own collective to support one another even though they engage in risky sexual behaviour just to buy fish. They take care of one another’s children, have created a micro-enterprise business, own a collective bank account, and lend money to one another. They also make sure that everyone takes their HIV medicine and check up on each other if they haven’t seen one of the members in a some time.
Women came from beaches all around Lake Victoria to personally tell us their stories (some from as much as 100 miles away) and also to tell us that these US programs. Without them they would be dead or dying of HIV.
I can still hear this beautiful woman tell us through a translator to not forget them and to please tell their story. Telling their story is the least I can do.