Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters
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The artist Michael Soi notes that Kenya remains on the surface a religious society with traditional sexual mores - but only on the surface. Those who deplore sex before marriage and infidelity within marriage rarely practise what they preach, he argues, and the condemnation of sugar relationships is tainted by the same hypocrisy. Dr Joyce Wamoyi from the National Institute for Medical Research in Tanzania says girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 have consistently been at higher risk of HIV infection than any other section of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. Most young women, she says, are not aware of the dangers. "Some of the girls who disappear around our continent were in these transactional relationships… Looking at the police reports, these are cases of girls who were in relationships with older people, and they were rejected at some point and someone decided to kill them."
Grace, the aspiring singer struggling to put food on the table, has a slightly different perspective - to her the similarities with sex work are more apparent. In Kenya, more and more young women are using sugar daddies to fund a lifestyle worth posting on social media.She also insists that her relationships with Tom and Jeff, both married, involve friendship and intimacy as well as financial exchange. Mildred Ngesa, an ambassador for the global activist group Female Wave of Change, makes a similar argument. After decades of women struggling for the right to vote, to own land, to go to school, she argues, the "choice" to engage in sugar relationships is steeped in contradiction.
There has been a rising growth of the women's movement in Africa and a rising feminist consciousness," says Oyunga Pala, the Nairobi columnist. "Women who were vilified for being sexually active have been given license to just be. There is less slut-shaming than before."
What is wrong about sex anyway?" asks Jane. "People just make it sound wrong. But sometimes, it ain't wrong at all." Phamotse eventually fled her abuser, with nothing to show for the relationship. "I had to escape so I didn't find any financial privilege," she says. "I left the house and the car, and had to rebuild my life." In the past, some of Kenya's socialites have styled themselves as #SlayQueens, and have been quite upfront about the financial benefits that have come from dating tycoons. Having made it to the top, though, they often begin to cultivate a different image - presenting themselves as independent, self-made businesswomen and encouraging Kenyan girls to work hard and stay in school.
Among Kenyan feminists, the rise of sponsor culture has provoked intense debate. Does the breaking of old taboos around sex represent a form of female empowerment? Or is sponsor culture just another way in which the female body can be auctioned for the pleasure of men? George Paul Meiu, who studies transactional relationships between men of Kenya's Samburu tribe and older European women, has described how their youth and good looks have become valuable commodities in Kenya's beach resorts. Both Alfred and her other sponsor, James, prefer not to use condoms, she says. In fact she has had unprotected sex with multiple sugar daddies, who then have sex with other women, as well as with their wives, exposing all of these partners to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.I prefer the sponsor thing, rather than standing on the street," she says. "Because you have that one person who is supporting you… you don't need to sleep with so many men." Transactional sex was once driven by poverty, says film-maker Nyasha Kadandara. But now, increasingly, it's driven by vanity. For many young Kenyans, the values espoused in families, schools, and churches simply do not align with the economic realities of the country, or cannot compete with the material temptations that, in the age of reality TV and social media, are everywhere visible.