Fractured families: pathways to sex work in Nairobi, Kenya




Ross, Melanie D.

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The reasons why African women become engaged in sex work have received little attention in academic research. While it is largely acknowledged that there exists a connection between entering the sex trade and poverty, not all women who are poor enter sex work. Through the use of life histories with 21 women between the ages of 18 and 42, this thesis explores the combination of factors that lead women and girls to become commercial sex workers in Nairobi, Kenya. This method provides a detailed look at initiation into sex work as it occurs over the life course for women and girls in this context. Additionally, this thesis examines how structural violence impinges on their lives, thereby increasing vulnerability to engagement in sex work. Examining the larger socio-political and economic contexts illustrates how issues such as HIV/AIDS, migrant labour, changing gender roles, the erosion of existing familial structures and gender inequities structure risk for suffering for women. These issues result in many girls losing caregiver support by being orphaned, while additionally, women are burdened with providing total economic and social support for the family in a society that has gendered economic opportunities. Both girls and women are left with few options other than the sex trade to survive.



life history, female sex workers, prostitution, sex trade, Kenya, Nairobi, life course, structural violence, HIV, AIDS, support, gender roles, family, gender inequality, qualitative, narrative, sex work initiation, medical anthropology, commerical sex work