Photo: Katarina Hoije, IRIN

Exchanging village life for prostitution in town

Girls and young women from the rural Nyiramba region in Tanzania often move to the nearest city Mwanza. Many end up as sex workers in bars. NAI guest researcher Ludovick Myumbo explores how the girls perceive their own situation and what choices they have made.

“People view them as loose girls, and they live under constant risk of rape and getting diseases. Yet many women from Nyiramba see it as what they are supposed to do for a living. It has become a kind of cultural concept – girls from Nyiramba work in bars selling sex”, Myumbo notes.

According to him, much of this stems from the notion that living in a city is better than living in the countryside. People from villages look up to urban dwellers, no matter if the person is homeless, unemployed or a sex worker – city citizens always have greater status than rural people.

Ludovick Myumbo

Subsequently, when Mwanza sex workers visit their families in Nyiramba they get much respect. Not only because they now live in the city, but also because they bring home gifts and money. A great number of people in rural Tanzania live on the margins, so the girls’ contributions might mean the difference between barely surviving and having a decent life.

“The help is much appreciated, even if they know, or suspect, where the money comes from. It is not unusual for women to recruit younger sisters to come to Mwanza and work with them. However, if one asks a parent what the daughter does in Mwanza they will say she is working in somebody’s home or for a certain boss. Nothing else”, Myumbo adds.

During his interviews, Myumbo understood that the women selling sex seldom do it for personal gain. They all dream of helping their families in Nyiramba. They want to build a proper house, send siblings to school, buy fertiliser and hire labour to work in the fields.

“They continue to feel very connected with their families. But there is also a sense of solidarity among the sex workers. They help and protect each other, and take care of new girls. Sharing their life is a way of coping with being excluded from normal city life”, Myumbo says.

TEXT: Johan Sävström

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