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Financial Inclusion Frees Women from Exploitation

Financial Inclusion Frees Women from Exploitation

As a young woman working along one of Lake Victoria’s fishing beaches, Lorraine Onyango, understands the unique challenges faced by women in the fishing industry. Culturally, fishing is a man’s occupation and to a large extent, fishing boats have for a long time been owned exclusively by men. This meant that women fish traders had little autonomy as they heavily relied on fishermen for their daily fish supplies. For many women this dependence came at a heavy price. To get a share of the limited fish stocks, many women fish traders were forced to make tough choices as they often faced demands for sexual favors from unscrupulous fishermen in exchange for fish supplies. This sex-for-fish practice subjected women to severe exploitation and led many to engage in risky sexual behavior. It also resulted in increased HIV infection rates that have resulted in high numbers of orphaned children and further propagated the cycle of poverty among fishing communities.
Lorraine understands the ravaging effects of the prevalent sex-for-fish practice and of the rampant HIV rates. The 26-year-old fish trader is a widow, a mother of five children and the guardian to 12 other children orphaned by HIV/AIDs. Six of these orphans are her own siblings and six belong to her late co-wife. Lorraine knows what it’s like to be really desperate and truly comprehends how easy it is for fish-mongering women to fall prey to sexual exploitation, just so they can put food on the table for their children and dependents.
Eager to break free from the culture of exploitation and to liberate other women in her locality, Lorraine and one of her friends jumped at the chance to begin a new initiative in partnership with the United States Peace Corps in Kenya. Lorraine helped to write funding proposals for the initiative and to mobilize fisher-women to from registered groups on several beaches. The No-Sex-for-Fish Campaign was designed to end the ‘sex-for-fish practice by leveling the playing field for women and giving them an alternative access to fish supplies for trade. By giving women ownership of fishing boats, the program enabled them to control and predict their fishing businesses. It also transformed them from the status of marginalized fish traders to that of key-decision makers and employers of fishermen for the boats they now owned.
As one of the pioneers of the No-Sex-for-Fish Campaign, Lorraine received a fishing boat. However, like many of her peers, she did not have any fishing nets. The initial excitement of owning a boat quickly fizzled as many of the would-be women-owned enterprises stalled. Lorraine considered taking a loan but the exorbitant interest rates and rigid loan terms offered by most financial institutions she approached made it untenable for someone like her who did not have a steady income flow.
To address this gap in access to affordable loans, Credit Factory–a new financial enterprise with a radical and innovative approach to finance — came to the aid of the No-Sex-For-Fish women. Credit Factory gave Lorraine and her peers low-interest loans for fishing nets and customized them to match their business cycles and their ability to repay. These loans have allowed the women to kick-off their fishing business and gone a long way in increasing their income base and elevating their living standards. In addition, Credit Factory also gave loans for more fishing boats to allow even more women to become part of the empowering transformation on the beaches and to support efforts in eliminating sexual exploitation in the fish trade.
“Before we got boats and fishing nets, many of us used to sell our bodies for fish. But now, our lives have changed. We are no longer the desperate women we used to be. We are now managers and role models in the community!” boasts Lorraine.
Credit Factory is a company founded through USAID FIRM’s technical support to pioneer an innovative approach to microfinance and to make lending truly affordable and available to the masses. The company is founded on the belief that the prevalent high interest rates in Kenya significantly limit financial access and widen the inequality gap. By leveraging technology, the Credit Factory will lower the cost of finance and will commoditize and customize credit for ordinary Kenyans for specific agriculture value chains based on farmer needs, production cycles and repayment capacities.

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