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Women living along the shores of Lake Victoria whose livelihood depends on trading fresh fish are exceptionally vulnerable to contracting HIV. In order to acquire fresh fish daily, the women are often pressured into having sex with the fishermen who supply the fish. It is not uncommon for the fishermen to maintain several such relationships simultaneously with women at different beaches where they land with their fish. As such, women fish traders are extremely susceptible to contracting HIV.
A couple of years ago, two Peace Corps Volunteers – Dominik Mucklow (an Education Volunteer, 2009-11) and Michael Geilhufe (a Community Economic Development Volunteer, 2010-12) – who lived near Lake Victoria decided to do something to help these women. With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), they assisted a group of women fish traders to acquire their own fishing boats. The women then employed men to go fishing using these boats. This simple advancement allowed the women to be free from sexual exploitation in order to secure their fish supply.
A third Volunteer, Samantha Slater (a Community Economic Development Volunteer, 2011-13) just completed her service. Samantha dedicated her work to helping the women with the business aspects of operating the boats and their fish trade. The women have since obtained additional loans to purchase new nets or replace damaged nets. They were also taught how to keep sound financial records and manage the business well enough to be able to pay back their loans in a timely way. Recently-arrived Volunteer Lori Armstrong will continue working on good business practices with the women. The work that these volunteers initiated has generated significant interest in development circles, and there is now a clear push to expand this “No Sex For Fish” initiative to other beaches along Lake Victoria. With additional support, this simple initiative promises to completely re-write the gender relationships that rule Lake Victoria’s fishing industry today.