The women are married but none of them is free decide on having extra marital affairs. They are forced by the people most dearest to them — their husbands — to have sex with other men to earn money. And such arrangements are not strange in Kinango, Kwale County, where husbands trade their wives wealthy men as a means of ‘earning a livelihood’. “I have no option, but to go to towns and solicit for money through sex,” says a woman who only identifies herself as Martha. “Mine started as a joke. One day I went home and told my husband that a tourist had fallen for me. Without thinking, he told me that I should entice him even into marrying me. He and I could pretend we were brother and sister. When I hesitated, he threatened me with violence. I did and he takes care of our two children as I continue pretending to be wife to the White man
The White man is rich so I send my family money and they live a good life,” says another women’. Yet another says that the husband allows men to come to their house ‘as long as I get paid for sleeping with them. “In fact, he sets the fee I should charge them,” she says. The tales of wives for hire are common in Kinango and it is an open secret. “Poverty has left us with few options,” says one of the husbands. “As a man, it is disheartening if you cannot provide even a single meal for your family. I have four children and I did not know what else to do,” he says. However, Fatuma Salim Nchizumo, a nominated ward representative in Kwale County says the trade is happening because some men do not like working. She laments that some men quit working as soon as they get married and rely on their wives for support. In the event that these women are not able to provide, the men encourage them to have sex with wealthy men so that they can demand compensation as culture dictates. “It is sad for a woman to wake up at 4.00 am to sell charcoal or her market wares yet she is only entitled to a cup of tea and mandazi (ban) while the husband takes the rest of the money to drinking dens.
This is not acceptable at all,” Nchizumo says. Echoing the same sentiments, Fatuma Mohammed Achani, Kwale County Deputy Governor says men should work hard and take up their role as head of the family unit instead of using their wives as baits for wealth. “Men should play their part as heads of the family and stop pushing their daughters and wives into sex work,” Achani says. However, according to Rajab Hamis Massah, assistant chief Golini Location, high poverty levels and extreme hunger was forcing some husbands to result to ‘selling their wives “The situation has been aggravated by low literacy levels in the area and the scenario is likely to worsen as more and more girls are forced to drop out of school and married off at a tender age,” says massah.
He notes this goes on in total disregard the consequences like HIV infection. “We as leaders have a responsibility to sensitise the community on the need to discard such practices. Villages have been wiped out of men because of HIV and Aids,” says Nchizumo. The ‘trading wives for money’ trend was revealed recently at a Gender Based Violence (GBV) meeting organised by Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) in Kwale recently. The meeting was told most men prefer trading their wives for sex instead of engaging in productive work. According to a youth representative from Ng’ombeni Development Community Based Organisation, the men in turn enjoy luxurious lifestyles and engage in drinking sprees with little care in the world.
“This is highly practised in Kinango and some parts of our county as men see it as an easy way of generating money for their upkeep without having to struggle,” the young man explains. The meeting by FIDA was organised under the auspices of Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK), a project of International Rescue Committee that is supported by the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAid). The initiative was launched in November last year and ends this month. It is made up of several partners who include Fida, African Woman and Child Feature Service, Rural Women Peace Link, COVAW, PeaceNet, Well Told Story and Sauti ya Wanawake Pwani. The project seeks to rapidly create a more protective and peaceful environment the woman and the girl child. The PIK project is designed to support a sense of Kenyan identity that overrides ethnic and gender schism. It targets large numbers of people at the grassroots level in four of the most conflict prone regions in Kenya — Rift Valley, Nyanza, Nai robi’s informal settlements and the Coast. PIK has been working throughout the country equipping women’s groups and networks with skills to advocate for peace in their communities. It also aims at engaging communities in peace messaging and ending Gender Based Violence. It is noted within PIK that women and girls are especially vulnerable violence. According to Fatuma Salim He urged the Peace Initiative Kenya and Fida to address the issue facing women in the area.
In Kwale County there is also the issue of gender imbalance in land ownership. Cultural beliefs and traditions continue to discriminate against women when it comes to land ownership and property inheritance. “Women are not sufficiently represented in institutions that deal with land. Their rights under communal ownership and group ranches are also not defined and this allows men to dis- pose off family land without consulting them,” says Nchizumo. She adds: “Few women have land registered in their names and majority lack finances to buy the resource. It is easier for men to own land through inheritance as opposed to women.” Achani notes that the Constitution offers an opportunity for women to own land and laws should now be reviewed and or legislated to realise this provision. The existing laws and practices governing matrimonial property discriminate against spouses whose contribution to the acquisition of such property is indirect and not capable of valuation in monetary terms. Furthermore, the courts have been inconsistent in determining what amounts to such contribution, with the result that some spouses have unfairly been denied of their rights to land. Women’s ownership to land continues to be determined by their marital status and by laws of inheritance and divorce. Generally, women have limited economic resources in their hands and also lack decision-making power at the household level to buy land independent of their spouses.