Women engaging in transactional sex and working in prostitution: Practices and underlying factors of the sex trade in South Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Isumbisho Mwapu, Dorothea Hilhorst, Murhega Mashanda, Muhigwa Bahananga and Ruhamya Mugenzi

Type: Research Reports

Organisation: Wageningen University

Country: DRC

Date: 08/03/2016

Full summary

Transactional sex and prostitution form a significant part of everyday urban life in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report is based on a survey among 480 sex workers engaged in prostitution and focus groups in milieux where there is a lot of transactional sex, where material exchange is embedded in broader social relations. These are in higher education, urban poor areas, offices, trade and religious milieux. Stepping away from discourses on morality and victimhood, the report takes an angle of livelihoods and women’s agency. Transactional sex in humanitarian crises is mostly associated with what is often called ‘survival sex’: sexual exchange in order to meet basic needs, often the needs of the entire family. However, the distinction between ‘needs’ (survival sex) and ‘wants’ (consumer sex) appears too simplistic, and the report proposes to replace the value-laden and imprecise term of ‘consumer sex’ by ‘strategic sex’. Engaging in transactional sex leaves women vulnerable to health, physical and emotional risks including rape, though the latter is rarely recognised by victims. To better protect women, six recommendations are proposed.