Perhaps HIV/AIDS is not new on Ugandan landing sites. But at Katwe- Kabatoro landing site at the shores of Lake George in Kasese district, the scourge is taking another twist as women sell their bodies in exchange of fish.
Susan Kabugho a 47 year old woman and a mother of six, does not see anything wrong with having more than five men for her survival on the lake.
“ There is no way I am going to look at my children starving yet there are men here willing to give me fish to feed my children. I have to improvise,” she says confidently.
Kabugho is among the many women at the landing site with many men. She disclosures that she has one man who brings in fish, another one who pays rent, another for her children’s school fees , another who buys food for her family and one who takes her out for social events.
She describes such character of women as poverty, lack of land for food cultivation and unemployment. She says that most of them have sex with men in exchange of food and fish.
“We are poor, we do not dig because we are surrounded by Queen Elizabeth National Park so we cannot cultivate the park authorities will arrest us for encroaching on the park. So the only alternative we have is to sell our bodies and we get food,” she adds.
Rose Korugyendo who immigrated from Rukungiri says that she does the same but does not take men to her house.
“Of course I have more than one man but I don’t take them to house. Sometime I go thjier places and sometime we go to lodges,” she says.
Jovia Asiimwe one of the fish mongers says that she two children and each with different father. She says that every evening she come of the shores to correct fish from her boyfriends to sell.
“I come here to wait for them and each must pay his share,” she says.
HIV is high
Angella Muhindo an HIV activist says that Katwe- Kabatoro has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of 20 percent which is high than the national one that stands at 7.3 percent. She attributes he high rate of HIV to high population of women at the lake and alcohol.
“At Katwe- Kabatoro we have three Ws, which water, wine and women. Men go to fish in the waters when they come, they have money to buy alcohol and after that they have them women at will,” she says.
She also said that the HIV is high among the youth aged 15 – 18. “As you can see we have many bars and lodges here and the owners bring in young girls to work for them in order to attract customers. What is annoying is that these big and old men come and buy this girls and whoever buys her, tells a friend and he also buys the same girl and the chain of HIV continues like that,” she says.
Innocent Rwego, the principal investigator of International development Research center ( IDRC) says that have launch a project to work with the fishing communities and comunties around Queen Elizabeth National Park to find a lasting solution to some of the challenges the communities face.
Rwego said tht they are working with a team of health professionals, social scientists, natural resource managers / ecologists and economists to identify, design and implement a series of studies.
“Priorities will be identified using an Ecohealth approach whereby communities will participate in identifying, ranking and prioritizing health and environmental challenges in their population,” he sid.
This information will be shared within the One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA) network in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda through OHCEA communication channels using simplified popular literature.
Margaret Akol one of the community sensitizer says that after seeing how women were suffering, they started Kanyiginya Women Drummer Actors to teach women how to generate income and quite prosecution and mining.
They started in 2005 with nine women but the association has 27 women who act as ambassador of change at the Katwe- Kabatoro landing site.
“Our main aim was to teach women to focus on other income generating activities like crafts, trade, more than selling their bodies,” Akol says.
Jane Tibahwerwayo aged 49 and mother of five says that mining was traditionally a male job but due to lack of jobs for money, they have also ventured into mining which is not favorable for them.
“We use a lot of force to do this work and the situation worsens when it rains because during rainy session the salt does not melt to come on top easily so we use a lot of force to mine it from deep in the lake,” she says.
Health damage and injury
Tibahwerwayo says that the salt water is not for women’s reproductive’s health because it damages the uterus and it can cause barrenness among women, adding that the water is so acidic and once it drops in some one’s ear , it can cause death.
“We have to heavily pad ourselves in order to go for salt mining. This is so acidic and once it gets in private parts, it straight goes to the uterus and damages it. Some of our friends have suffered this kind of damage and I have seen many lose their uterus and the implication is that they will never have children in their lives. Yu can imagine being childless, all in the names of earning living from this lake. It is heartbreaking but we have no choice and no alternative of survival,” she says.
However Noyisayata Kabajungu another miner says that they have resorted to digging small trenches whoosh diverts water from the main lake to form small wells known as shallow brine to allow women mine in short wells.
“ After know the implication of this salty water it has on our health, we have resorted to mine in shallow brines which has little water up to the knees and we are telling women not to be greedy to go to the men lake but be contented with the little they have and save their lives,” she says.
Men at risk as well, they use condoms to protect their private parts.
Meanwhile as women at Lake Katwe lament about barrenness due to the effects of salty mining, their men counterpart lament about losing their penises.
World over, condoms are known to be used during sex intercourse to protect sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. But men at Lake Katwe use them to protect their penises from harm during mining.
At the salt mining lake, miners have no protective gears on the market hence causing them many health damages. Men go to the main lake with deep waters and when a man is mining, the water can even reach him up to the neck.
“A condom was made to be put on erected penis, but for us we put it on when our penises are not erected and we are forced to tie it with rubber buns to hold the condom,” one George said.
Before George concluded his statement, John who trades the salt says that he lost his father due to salty mining.
“My father lost his penis, we took him to Kagando hospital but he could not be treated there, we were referred to Mulango where he died from,” he said.
Gorret Kyikuhaire: we are losing our young girls to men who offer them money and other materials. This has killed the spirit of working among girls and women knowing that en will come from the lake and give them money.
Rehema Elias; HIV will never leave this landing site if government does not put measures of controlling it. I get shocked seeing men who are mining salt wearing condoms but when it comes to sex, they abandon them.
Florence Namara; we want government and other actors to talk to Uganda Wildlife Authority to allocate a piece of land to communities living around the park and the lake so that women can start growing food for their families and to sell. The cost of living is so high here and poverty is at its highest level, that’s why women have to sell their bodies for food.