Fish trading: Women want catch of the day too

Esther Mwanza on the shores of Luangwa River after buying fish. PICTURE:DOREEN NAWA

ESTHER Mwanza, 38 of Nyimba District, town center area has one personal business motto: “If my family is uncomfortable with this business venture, I quit.”
But that has not happened yet in the past 10 years of her fish trading.
Esther is now a semi Feira resident because she spends some time in Feira area chasing orders for fish as it lands from Mozambique.
Fishing is seasonal and when it is rainy season, because of too much water in the Luangwa River, she spends about three days before she travels back to Nyimba district.
But when the water levels are low in the Luangwa River, she spends up to five days before buying her desired quantity.
“I have established reliable customers for my fish and because of that, I have an assured market such that even if I take more than three days to return, my customers still wait for the fish,” Ms Mwanza said.
She joined the fish trading business in 2007 with very minimal start-up capital.
Having been married for over 15 years now, Ms Mwanza is thankful to her husband for providing the best support.
“I have been married for 15 years. when I proposed the business idea of fish trading to my husband, he supported it and gave me a go-ahead. Just this was enough support to give me the zeal to work hard and make this business viable and beneficial to our three children,” Ms Mwanza said.
Her formal education includes a grade nine certificate, with a craft certificate in tailoring she obtained from Chipata Trades Training School.
Despite Ms Mwanza’s success and support from the family, the fish trading business for women carries a negative connotation which smacks of some discrimination against the women engaged in the trade.
Mostly, women who engage in the business are said to be in it for sex.
But for Ms Mwanza, she says despite the gender division of economic activities in fish trading, her focus is to gain profit from the business for her family.
The lack of economic opportunities for women at fish-landing sites in Luangwa has been described as a key contributing factor to the vulnerability of women.
However, the economic vulnerability of women does not only result from the desperate profit generation between men fishing and women selling fish, it also emerges from the inability, or lack of women at the landing site to negotiate access the price of fish.
She acknowledges the societal negative thinking about women in the fish business.
“The moment a woman ventures into fish trading, the way society looks at her immediately changes. She is perceived as one who is in the business for sex,” she says.
But for Ms Mwanza, the notion has not discouraged her.
“As women fish traders, we travel regularly to remote fishing camps to purchase fish and this doesn’t not mean that all of us travel there for sex, actually it’s just a generalised statement. Society should change the way it looks at us, we are not sex objects, we are independent beings that can positively contribute to economic growth even in a little way,” she says.
For Ms Mwanza, she owes her success in the fish business to the thinking she has cultivated over the years of ignoring the societal negative feedback towards women.
She considers most what her family, especially her husband, says on the venture she is undertaking.
And the Luangwa-Feira Fish trading Association vice-chairperson Anthony Mwansa says, “It is very sad the way this country stereotypes women, and a woman cannot be intelligent, young and maybe slightly attractive and not have any relationship with anyone for them to move up.”
Mr Mwansa says society believes that a woman cannot be successful in her own right.
She must have had a driving force behind her, a sponsor preferably a man who pushed her and handed her the position on a silver platter.
Mr Mwansa says such thinking can dampen the zeal for women to work hard and empower themselves through various business ventures.
“Even when a woman buys a car, it doesn’t matter whether she is single or married, for society it is an issue. People will start examining the source of the car. A woman cannot drive her own car no matter how simple the car is without rumours swirling that it must have been a gift from a lover.
Rumours of most women fish traders being involved in extramarital affairs are everywhere even in fish trading. We haven’t seen any confusion at the harbour because of extramarital affairs issues,” Mr Mwansa says.
He says it is not only in fish trading where women are stereotyped but even in other jobs and professions.
And a male fish trader, Martin Njovu, adds, “Time is now for women to stand up and change this thinking towards them. Such kind of thinking has resulted in women not venturing into income-generating activities. Currently in this country, a woman cannot clinch a job without being accused of landing that job through sex,” Mr Njovu said.
Mr Njovu adds, “It won’t matter if she is a hard worker. A woman cannot get into politics in this country without people questioning the source of her resources. It is socially illegal for a woman to own a house without being accused of reap off a man,” he says.
Despite the stereotyping, Ms Mwanza says the secret to success in the fish trading has always been her positive attitude.
“There is no energy that can mimic what is released when a positive, high-stepping woman enters a room. A positive attitude is the fuel needed to drive us from idea conception to realisation,” she concludes.

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