IN THE MURKY WATERS OF HIV THRIVES NIGERIA’s ‘RUNS GIRLS …(Part Two) – Steve Aborisade

The concluding part of the story….

Ring of Prostitution

In a more daring display of ambition, several other girls have found themselves going into full time prostitution. While some are tricked into it, others have had to actually save money to make it to Europe, but more recently, there has been an upsurge of young ladies travelling to Dubai on the pretext of buying goods for sale back hope. According to an informed industry watcher, ‘what these girls actually come to do is prostitution, they secure a Matron who houses them, while they make quick cash to return home after one or two weeks’’. This route is believed to offer better returns. In Europe and elsewhere, most of the girls who got stuck have been turned into sex slaves in most cases. For many of these girls, reports are rife of the challenges they encounter aside the risk of HIV/AIDS.

But, what is really responsible for the increase in this occurrence? We gathered, it is due more to the changing social and economic conditions. In contrast to previous generations of black women, these young women viewed themselves as active decision-makers and modern, empowered women, able to extract financial and material resources from older men in exchange for sex. Importantly, reference was made to the fact that society has not really frowned at this practice. Aside this is the fact that the family, more and more has found itself unable to cater to the needs of its members, so, young girls, from a very tender age has had to depend on what they have to keep body and soul together. Some households are said to practically depend on proceeds from ‘RUNS’, veiled reference to the prostitution that the girl child is involved in.

The desire for ‘fresh blood and access to variety’

Interestingly, it is not only the women who derive benefits from age-disparate and inter-generational relationships, as well as from prostitution. The ease of availability and access, the expectation of better and daring performances and the belief that older men can be sexually rejuvenated (or having ‘his blood refreshed’ by a younger woman, all contribute to men seeking younger alliances, including of professional prostitutes. And since money or gifts (such as designer clothes, cell phones and other trappings of luxury) are a very important aspect of the relationship, the older men view the relationship as purely transactional – hence the low rates of safer sexual practices.

However, age-disparate sex is not only a ‘modern’ economic phenomenon, driven by young women’s desire for luxuries and a particular lifestyle. Studies show that age-disparate and intergenerational relationships are strongly rooted in some of our cultural beliefs. On the one hand, men are expected to redistribute wealth according to their economic means – the wealthy chief or headman looking after his people, paying large bride wealth transfers for a number of women enhances his standing. On the other hand, the norm prescribes that it is okay for women to receive material compensation for sexual favours, as a validation of their worth, and a sign of a partner’s love and commitment. ‘Doing sex for free’, is heavily frowned upon, while young women have been culturally conditioned to view their sexuality as a valuable resource, to be used to satisfy the primarily male need for sex and as a means to meeting their own material desires.

The protection of self-worth and knowledge

The women in such relationships  do not view themselves as victims, which explains why HIV-prevention programmes aimed at tackling poor, desperate, ‘women-as-victim’ stereotypes has not worked. While there are certainly many young women driven to age-disparate relationships to meet subsistence needs such as bread and school fees, there are many better-off young women who seek out sugar daddies to meet a need for designer handbags and a glamorous lifestyle.

The clock is however tickling, as more and more young women fall victim, to a disease of pleasure. On a daily basis, hundreds, if not thousands get infected with HIV.

Story developed from a research abstract by Professor Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala

 

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