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Abstract

This paper explores the strategic use of sexual relationships in bolstering the economic well-being of young low-income women and men in The Gambia, West Africa. While other studies of sexuality in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond have demonstrated the importance of intimate (and often cross-generational) relationships for young women as a means of accessing resources, less is known in this regard about their male counterparts. This study points to the increasingly prominent place of cross-generational relationships, related to international tourism, in the livelihood strategies of young men struggling for employment in a constrained labour market. For poor young Gambian women and men, resource scarcity seems to be associated with a prioritization of the instrumental and material over the affective or recreational value of sexual partnerships, often resulting in multiple, concurrent relations. However, manifold considerations come into play in the relationship decisions of young women and men, indicating the importance of close attention to social and cultural as well as economic factors.
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Environment and Urbanization
http://eau.sagepub.com/content/22/2/353
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DOI: 10.1177/0956247810379822
2010 22: 353Environment and Urbanization
Sylvia Chant and Alice Evans
Looking for the one(s): young love and urban poverty in The Gambia
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Environment & Urbanization Copyright © 2010 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Vol 22(2): 353–369. DOI: 10.1177/0956247810379822 www.sagepublications.com
Looking for the one(s): young love and
urban poverty in The Gambia
SYLVIA CHANT AND ALICE EVANS
ABSTRACT This paper explores the strategic use of sexual relationships in
bolstering the economic well-being of young low-income women and men in
The Gambia, West Africa. While other studies of sexuality in sub-Saharan Africa
and beyond have demonstrated the importance of intimate (and often cross-
generational) relationships for young women as a means of accessing resources,
less is known in this regard about their male counterparts. This study points to
the increasingly prominent place of cross-generational relationships, related to
international tourism, in the livelihood strategies of young men struggling for
employment in a constrained labour market. For poor young Gambian women
and men, resource scarcity seems to be associated with a prioritization of the
instrumental and material over the affective or recreational value of sexual
partnerships, often resulting in multiple, concurrent relations. However, manifold
considerations come into play in the relationship decisions of young women and
men, indicating the importance of close attention to social and cultural as well as
economic factors.
KEYWORDS cross-generational relationships / gender / international tourism /
sexuality / The Gambia / urban poverty
I. INTRODUCTION
When access to resources is limited, relationships with those who do
have access are likely to assume more importance. Sexual relationships –
often with more than one partner at a time – are one such means of
supplementing livelihood options, as evidenced in research among
poor urban young women and men in The Gambia. Looking for the
one(s) who can fulfill various basic survival needs and/or aspirations
for socioeconomic (and geographic) mobility is significant, even if
relationship decisions and behaviours are also driven by other factors
such as physical attraction, pleasure, emotional satisfaction, gendered
norms and identities, kin-based expectations, concerns for social respect
(from parents as well as peers), and marital prospects. While a multiplicity
of interests affect the formation of sexual partnerships beyond, as well
as within, The Gambia,(1) we are also eminently aware of the need to
avoid the traditional oppositional dichotomy of “economic interests”
and “emotional attachment” that has frequently characterized historical
and contemporary writings about African sexuality and intimacy from a
Eurocentric perspective. Thomas and Cole, for example, note that Western
Sylvia Chant is Professor of
Development Geography
at the London School of
Economics and Political
Science. She has worked
and published on a variety
of themes relating to
Gender and Development
(GAD) in Mexico, Costa Rica,
the Philippines and The
Gambia.
Address: Department
of Geography and
Environment, London
School of Economics and
Political Science, Houghton
Street, London WC2A 2AE;
e-mail: s.chant@lse.ac.uk
Alice Evans is a PhD
student at the London
School of Economics and
Political Science. She has
worked in The Gambia and
is currently exploring why
Zambian men and women
challenge or comply with
gender hierarchies.
Address: Department
of Geography and
Environment, London
School of Economics and
Political Science, Houghton
Street, London WC2A 2AE;
e-mail: a.evans@lse.ac.uk
The title for this paper
draws on a sub-title used
in Chant, Sylvia (2011
forthcoming), “Youth and
sexuality”, in Gareth Jones,
Sylvia Chant, Katherine
Brickell and Sarah Thomas
de Benítez, Bringing Youth
into Development, Zed
Press, London.
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E N VI R ON M E N T & U R BA N I Z AT I O N Vol 22 No 2 October 2010
354
researchers who have documented sex as a means of economic survival in
African settings have often missed the “…subtle and ubiquitous intertwining
of emotions and materiality”,(2) which in the context of invidious relativist
comparisons has, at its logical extreme, tended to dismiss the presence
of sentiment in sexual exchanges, and to stigmatize African intimacy.
As summarized by Helle-Valle,(3) the common Western privileging of
“…romantic love and/or personal pleasure (physical and psychological)…” as
“…the proper motives for engaging in sex…”, has led to a gaze on African
intimate relationships whereby “…strategic, materially oriented uses of
sexuality are strictly tabooed – being forcefully embodied in our image of the
prostitute’.” This is despite the fact that the term “transactional sex”
was coined precisely to distinguish sexual relations involving material
exchange from “prostitution”.(4)
With these considerations in mind, we draw on primary fieldwork in
The Gambia to illustrate how young love is negotiated in the context of
urban poverty, and how it is often differentiated on the basis of gender.
Consonant with findings from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, young
women’s premarital relationships and marriage decisions are frequently
driven by motives of economic support that often push them into unions
with older men (“sugar daddies”). The terms of courtship with such men
may be considerably more favourable than often turns out to be the case
in practice within marriage. However, while it may be true that “girls” (as
unmarried females are called in The Gambia) are disadvantaged in terms
of education and employment compared with their male peers, the latter
are no less needy or desirous of income indeed, their families often
prioritize their advancement in anticipation of returns. However, when
jobs are scarce, young men are unable to live up to expectations. They
can neither fulfill family obligations nor attract committed partners. In
a situation of urban poverty, young women tend to sideline poor young
men for reasons pertaining to social respect and economic security. Thus,
gendered socialization needs to be regarded as influencing men’s as well
as women’s sexual subjectivities and behaviours.
In the particular context of The Gambia, inadequate employment
opportunities coupled with severe restrictions on emigration to
“Babylon” (a colloquial Gambian term referring to the Global North,
especially Europe) have underlined the importance of another kind of
sexual strategy for which opportunities have flourished in the wake of
international tourism development. To secure economic advancement
through overseas migration or remittances and social respect at home,
young Gambian men often cultivate relationships with older foreign
female (and sometimes male(5)) visitors. In the absence of viable economic
alternatives, international and inter-generational sexual relationships are
often perceived as highly desirable.
II. METHODOLOGY
Our discussions on the inter-relations between young love and urban
poverty are based on findings from a study conducted in 2008 and 2009
in Greater Banjul, the main metropolitan area of The Gambia. In-depth
individual interviews and focus group discussions were held with a
total of 65 young women and men, 60 of whom were aged 30 or under.
Most were in low-income occupations or unemployed and were selected
Acknowledgement: We
would like to thank Katja
Jassey and David Ansari
for their comments on an
earlier version of this paper.
1. See Moore, Henrietta (2010),
“Subjectivity, sexuality and
social inequalities”, in Sylvia
Chant (editor), International
Handbook of Gender and
Poverty: Concepts, Research,
Policy, Edward Elgar,
Cheltenham, pages 35–40;
also Cole, Jennifer (2009),
“Love, money and economies
of intimacy in Tamatave,
Madagascar”, in Jennifer Cole
and Lynn M Thomas (editors),
Love in Africa, University of
Chicago Press, Chicago, pages
109–134; Thomas, Lynn M and
Jennifer Cole (2009), “Thinking
through love in Africa”, in
Jennifer Cole and Lynn M
Thomas (editors), Love in Africa,
University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, pages 1–30; and
Smith, Daniel Jordan (2009),
“Managing men, marriage
and modern love: women’s
perspectives on intimacy and
male infidelity in southeastern
Nigeria”, in Jennifer Cole and
Lynn M Thomas (editors), Love
in Africa, University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, pages 157–80.
2. See reference 1, Thomas and
Cole (2009), page 24.
3. Helle-Valle, Jo (2006),
“Understanding sexuality
in Africa: diversity and
contextualized dividuality”,
in Signe Arnfred (editor), Re-
thinking Sexualities in Africa,
2nd edition, Nordic Africa
Institute, Uppsala,
pages 195–210.
4. See reference 1, Thomas and
Cole (2009), page 9.
5. We did not find direct
evidence of this in our own
survey (see next section), so
are omitting discussion of
same-sex, international, cross-
generational relationships
here (see also Chant, Sylvia
(2011 forthcoming), “Youth
and sexuality”, in Gareth
Jones, Sylvia Chant, Katherine
Brickell and Sarah Thomas
de Benítez (editors), Bringing
Youth into Development, Zed
Press, London. Note also that
we found scant evidence of
young Gambian women with
older foreign men, possibly
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YOUNG LOVE AND URBAN POVERTY IN THE GAMBIA
355
on the basis either of their involvement in earlier research(6) or on our
independent social interactions in The Gambia (for example, meetings at
homes, markets, social events) rather than via a random sampling frame.
Additional perspectives on sexuality were sought from a small group
of older individuals to garner a sense of how norms and practices had
changed over time. Supplementary background consultations were held
with medical doctors, NGO personnel, representatives of international
agencies and other local professionals and cultural experts. Most interviews
were recorded and transcribed verbatim. We have left extracts unaltered
or minimally edited to maintain authenticity,(7) although pseudonyms
have been used to preserve anonymity.
III. POVERTY
In The Gambia, a small, predominantly agricultural country, despite
considerable recent urbanization young love is negotiated in context
of widespread poverty. The Gambia’s gross national income per capita
is US$ 320(8) and its Human Development Index rank is 168th out of
182.(9) The urban poverty headcount rose from 40 per cent in 1992 to
57 per cent in 2003.(10) In the major metropolitan areas of Banjul and
Kanifing, 46 per cent of households are food insecure.(11) Jobs are scarce
(urban youth unemployment is estimated at 22 per cent(12)) and “decent
work” less accessible still. The Gambia is unlikely to meet the Millennium
Development Goal of halving income poverty by 2015.(13) The global
financial crisis has made national economic growth and urban livelihoods
increasingly precarious due to fewer tourist arrivals, lower remittances
and a declining re-export trade.(14) As summarized by Nyanzi: In The
Gambia, successful livelihoods among youths are challenged by unemployment,
underemployment, low employability due to limited skills, early school dropout,
high inflation rates and fledgling groundnut prices.”(15)
IV. SAFETY NETS AND SEXUALITY
While it is often supposed that kin provide safety nets,(16) and indeed
consanguineal and affinal relatives in The Gambia are rarely denied the
opportunity to share meals or stop-gap accommodation, support of a more
substantial or permanent nature may be virtually impossible where people
belong to the large cohort of long-term poor. Since “everyone is suffering”
(as Ndey, an unemployed 23-year old single mother observed), few have
surplus to redistribute. Furthermore, direct requests, especially for money,
are regarded as somewhat “shameful”, especially when they extend
beyond parents and siblings. This is partly because respect is a critical goal
in inter-personal relations. Repeated “begging”, especially for resources of
any magnitude, prejudices the regard in which those soliciting favours
are held. Requests may not always be kept private by donors, which poses
the threat of gossip or back-biting, leading ultimately to humiliation and
damaged self-esteem for those seeking help. For young men in particular,
who according to local norms should be providing for their kin rather
than being provided for, soliciting assistance can be tantamount to an
admission of their failure to live up to masculine ideals.
because our sample included
a wide range of young people
rather than being dedicated
merely to those who made
their main living out of sex
work. Indeed, the phenomenon
of partnerships between young
Gambian women and older
foreign men is also discussed
less in the literature except in
the context of child prostitution
(see Bjinsdorp, Mireille and
Michael Montgomery (2003),
“Gambia… the smiling coast:
a study of child sex tourism
in The Gambia and the
involvement of Dutch tourists”,
Child Protection Alliance/The
Hague: Terre des Hommes,
Netherlands, Bakau). One
plausible reason for limited
coverage in the literature of
Gambian female–foreign male
relationships is because such
relationships are viewed as
“normal” or “expected” and,
as such, less remarkable than
others. We are grateful to
Katja Jassey for drawing our
attention to this last point.
6. Chant, Sylvia and Gareth A
Jones (2005), “Youth, gender
and livelihoods in West Africa:
perspectives from Ghana
and The Gambia”, Children’s
Geographies Vol 3, No 2, pages
185–199; also Chant, Sylvia
(2007), Gender, Generation
and Poverty: Exploring the
Feminization of Povertyin
Africa, Asia and Latin America,
Edward Elgar, Cheltenham,
428 pages; and Chant, Sylvia
and Gareth A Jones (2009),
“Globalizing initiatives for
gender equality and poverty
reduction: exploring ‘failure’
with reference to education
and work among urban youth
in The Gambia and Ghana”,
Geoforum Vol 40, No 2,
pages 184–196.
7. Thanks to David Ansari for
drawing attention to the need
to edit lightly in order to convey
sense in some instances.
8. World Bank (2009), “The
Gambia: country brief”,
World Bank, Washington
DC, accessed 12 April 2010
at http://go.worldbank.org/
ZFRMVSB5M0.
9. United Nations Development
Programme (2009), 2009
Human Development Report:
Gambia, Human Development
Report Office, UNDP, New York,
accessed 12 April 2010 at
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356
Sexual relationships offer something of an alternative, partly because
resource transfers are regarded as an integral aspect of wooing one’s
partner(s) and making an effort to please them, especially in the context
of male behaviour towards women. And in the case of young men who
form relationships with wealthier women from other countries, the
endemic poverty of The Gambia can be used to evoke a diffuse “pity”,
which justifies men’s need for financial and other assistance but also
“saves face” through sparing them from forced disclosure of personal
failings or disadvantage.
V. GENDER DIMENSIONS OF ACCESS TO ECONOMIC
RESOURCES
Many discussions of sexuality in sub-Saharan Africa emphasize that
because income poverty is feminized, it is young women rather than
young men who pursue sexual relationships for economic gain.(17) The
initial premise, at least, may be true in the Gambian context. Professionals
in government, international development agencies and NGOs maintain
that women suffer disproportionately from income poverty, even if there
are insufficient sex-disaggregated data to substantiate the claim.(18) There
is evidence, however, that ideals of men as breadwinners and women
as home makers lead parents to prioritize boys’ education.(19) Female
literacy and net primary enrolment rates thus lag behind those of their
male counterparts.(20) Furthermore, even when education is equivalent
employers discriminate on the basis of gender. Thus women are
disproportionately concentrated in low-paid informal work.(21) Women
are also severely disadvantaged in access to, and command over, property,
which limits their possibilities for operating independent small-scale
businesses. Last but not least, young women face even more barriers to
international immigration than their male counterparts. Although sex-
disaggregated statistics on international migration from The Gambia are
not available, the sex ratio in the 15 to 64 age group is only 0.98 males per
one female. This compares with a masculinized sex ratio at birth of 1.03,
of 1.01 under the age of 15, and an overall ratio of 1:1. Despite women’s
slightly longer life expectancy (57 compared to 54), the sex ratio in the
65-plus cohort is even, at 1:1.(22) This suggests that “missing men” in the
15 to 64 age group may be accounted for partly by male-biased diasporic
movement.
While young women may have less access to economic resources than
their male peers, the latter’s need for income can be equally if not more
pronounced, given that young men’s social respect is largely contingent
upon providing for their natal (as well as conjugal) kin. Even though most
parents accordingly prioritize the education of sons, this by no means
guarantees them access to employment.(23) Aspirations and expectations
of progress are rarely fulfilled.(24) Although men may have an edge over
women in the labour market, economic satisfaction can remain elusive.
With the demands of their families weighing heavily on their shoulders,
men in The Gambia also regard relationships as a means of procuring
resources. Despite the conventional tendency to focus solely on male-
to-female resource transfers,(25) our research reveals that young men as
well as young women in The Gambia have an incentive, as well as the
opportunity, to access material benefits through sexual liaisons.
http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/
countries/country_fact_sheets/
cty_fs_GMB.html.
10. Department of State for
Finance and Economic Affairs
(DOSFEA) (2006), Poverty
Reduction Strategy: 2007–2011,
Republic of The Gambia,
Department of State for
Finance and Economic Affairs,
Banjul, page 26.
11. National Nutrition
Agency (NaNA) (2009), “Food
vulnerability in the urban
areas of Banjul and Kanifing
municipality”, National Nutrition
Agency, Government of The
Gambia, Banjul.
12. Heintz, James, Carlos Oya
and Eduardo Zepeda (2008),
“Towards an employment-
centred development strategy
for poverty reduction in The
Gambia: macroeconomic
and labour market aspects”,
Country Study No 16,
International Poverty Centre
in cooperation with Carnegie
Endowment for International
Peace, Brasilia, page 23.
13. International Monetary
Fund (IMF) (2009), “The Gambia:
Poverty Reduction Strategy
Paper, annual progress report,
Joint Staff Advisory note”, IMF
Country Report No 09/76,
International Monetary Fund,
Washington DC, page 4.
14. See reference 8.
15. Nyanzi, Stella (2010),
“Ghettoization, migration or
sexual connection? Negotiating
survival among Gambian male
youths”, in Sylvia Chant (editor),
International Handbook of
Gender and Poverty: Concepts,
Research, Policy, Edward Elgar,
Cheltenham, page 207.
16. Cox, Donald and Emmanuel
Jiménez (1990), “Achieving
social objectives through
private transfers: a review”, The
World Bank Research Observer
Vol 5, No 2, pages 205–218.
17. Campbell, Catherine
and Andrew Gibbs (2010),
“Gender, poverty and AIDS:
perspectives with particular
reference to sub-Saharan
Africa”, in Sylvia Chant (editor),
International Handbook of
Gender and Poverty: Concepts,
Research, Policy, Edward Elgar,
Cheltenham, pages 327–332;
also Madise, Nyovani, Eliya
Zulu and James Ciera (2007), “Is
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YOUNG LOVE AND URBAN POVERTY IN THE GAMBIA
357
VI. COURTSHIP, MARRIAGE AND PREMARITAL SEXUAL
RELATIONS
As suggested above, short-term financial returns are not the only factor
motivating intimate relations among youth. Another major element is
the incentive to find a desirable spouse. Given the importance of marriage
in conferring social respect and the status of full adulthood upon women
and men in The Gambia,(26) the vast majority of youth express a desire to
be married, even if the expectation that husbands should provide wives
with accommodation means that men can (and indeed are often forced
to) delay marriage until as late as 40. Premarital dating enables informed
selection. This is perhaps especially critical for women who are anxious
to choose wisely given that they will have minimal negotiating power as
wives, that divorce is strongly condemned, and that they, unlike men,
lack the socially sanctioned option of polygamy. Most young women
maintain that they are looking for someone who is respectful, hard-
working and caring, which is not to say that all are in a position to choose
their husbands. Some, especially from the Fula and Mandinka groups,
are married off quickly or forced to wed relatives or family friends, both
to improve household financial security and to strengthen kin cohesion.
(27) Keen to maintain family peace, social respect and economic security,
many young women succumb to arranged marriages. Some contend that
the prevalence of arranged marriages is in decline. According to Kadijatou
(aged 21), for instance: Nowadays changes are coming… people are having
different styles, the children are disobeying their parents to marry their real
love.” However, what happens in practice often proves rather different.
Indeed, when Kadijatou was asked whether her parents might allow her
to marry outside her ethnic group, she conceded that “...they would refuse
because [in] their culture you must marry a Serahule” (this particular ethnic
group is frequently noted as subscribing strongly to endogamy).
Although the vast majority of Gambian women marry young (53 per
cent by the age of 20, with the median age at marriage being only 17
in 2006(28)), premarital relations, which for some young girls commence
shortly after menarche, can be pleasurable and rewarding for other reasons.
For example, possibly because men are less secure with girlfriends than
wives, they tend to show greater appreciation and do more for the former.
Indeed, even if men are already married, perhaps to more than one wife
(around 40 per cent of marriages in the country are polygamous), or have
more than one girlfriend, the latter tend not to know about the other
women in men’s lives (except the spouses, whom they disregard), and as
such feel more special and better romanced. Nor do girlfriends have to
perform the domestic chores that fall to wives, even if they may prepare
culinary treats as an indication of their domestic prowess and promise.
Men also tend to be less controlling with girlfriends in terms of how they
dress, where they go and what they do for a living. Such differences are
partly because there are no established authoritative codes governing
premarital dating and because, due to social and religious opprobrium,
dating is largely discreet. Although there is often tacit acceptance by older
people that premarital relationships can provide economic opportunities
for the family and wider kin group, they do not tend to intervene in
courtships to the same extent as in marriages, where in-laws can often
enforce young women’s subservience. Last but not least is the reality of
poverty a driver for risky sexual
behaviour? Evidence from
national surveys of adolescents
in four African countries”,
African Journal of Reproductive
Health Vol 11, No 3, pages
83–98.
18. See reference 6, Chant
(2007).
19. See reference 6, Chant and
Jones (2005); also Jah, Omar
(2007), “Women and Islam: a
case study of The Gambia”,
ActionAid The Gambia, Kanifing;
also Touray, Isatou (2006),
“Sexuality and women’s sexual
rights in The Gambia”, IDS
Bulletin Vol 27, No 5, page 78.
20. Touray, Katim, Cherno Jallow
and Burama Jammeh with the
assistance of Emily Sarr (2005),
“Reaching out to the people:
a review of progress towards
achieving the Millennium
Development Goals at the local
level in The Gambia”, Policy
Analysis Unit of the Office of
the President, Government of
The Gambia, Banjul, pages 8,
12, 13; also Statehouse The
Gambia (2007), “Budget speech
2007”, Statehouse, Banjul; and
see reference 12, page 29.
21. See reference 6, Chant
(2007); also see reference
6, Chant and Jones (2009);
see reference 12; Chant,
Sylvia (2011 forthcoming),
“Youth and employment”, in
Gareth A Jones, Sylvia Chant,
Katherine Brickell and Sarah
Thomas de Benítez (editors)
(forthcoming), Bringing Youth
into Development, Zed Press,
London; and Williams, Emma
Ann (2010), “The role of
education in transitions to
womanhood: the case of The
Gambia”, unpublished MPhil
dissertation, Department of
Geography, Coventry University.
22. Central Intelligence Agency
(2010), World Factbook,
accessed 26 May 2010 at
https://www.cia.gov/library/
publications/the-world-
factbook/fields/2018.html.
23. See reference 21, Chant
(2011 forthcoming); also see
reference 6, Chant (2007),
pages 184–196.
24. See reference 21, Chant
(2011 forthcoming); also Jeffrey,
Craig (2008), “‘Generation
nowhere’: rethinking
youth through the lens of
unemployed young men”,
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358
sexual double standards. Polygyny before and after wedlock is widely
tolerated, but women risk serious censure, if not divorce, as a result of
extra-marital relations. This means that premarital dating provides a
unique opportunity, where “looking for the one” may involve looking for
more than one relationship at a time, as discussed in further detail below.
VII. FACTORS DISCOURAGING PREMARITAL SEXUAL RELATIONS
Despite the window of opportunity for young urban women provided
by premarital courtships, virginity remains highly valued by families. For
a young woman to respond precociously to amorous overtures would
jeopardize respect from her admirers and society at large.(29) Open female
promiscuity is condemned and fear of humiliation instills compliance.
Public shaming by boyfriends is not uncommon, as described by John, a
35-year old unmarried wood carver:
“You know some boys here, they used to fuck girls here and embarrass
you [the girl], insult you, do bad things, insulting you, insult your
parents... [they say]: ‘You are a prostitute’, in front of people.”
This trend was also noted by one of our female interviewees, Anne Marie,
an 18-year old schoolgirl:
“They go and sit at the road. When you passing, they say: ‘Hey, I was
having sex with this girl.’ They will say many things about you.”
Similarly in marriage:
“If you get small problem with your husband, your husband used
[i.e. is accustomed] to say to you: ‘You are not a virgin by the time I
meet you. I don’t even see nothing, you go and give yourself to boys’,
and that will pain you… people will hear that. It’s not good, it’s not
good.”
Mindful of these public pressures, young women tend to be very
secretive about their sexual liaisons, even if some parents accept the
idea of boyfriends. But most disastrous of all is the damning evidence of
premarital sexuality: pregnancy. This may shame the girl to the extent
that it not only derails her own marriage prospects but also those of her
sisters. While some young men wed their pregnant partners, the majority
do not. Similarly, although family members may support their daughters
to bring up children, sometimes by caring for their progeny themselves,
not all of them do. This can lead girls to abandon babies at hospitals or
on the steps of the Department of Social Welfare (“baby dumping”), or try
to kill them, or turn to prostitution to cover costs.(30) Wary of such risks,
and in a context where parents generally discourage sex among their
unmarried daughters, some mothers actively advise the latter on birth
control, especially if they themselves have been exposed to reproductive
and sexual health awareness programmes.(31)
Exhortations to observe sexual restraint may be more common for
young women but are not entirely one-sided. Male elders also encourage
young men to refrain from sexual relations where marriage is not on
the cards as this flouts the principles of Islam, the reported religion of
more than 90 per cent of the population. As Omar, a 27-year old cloth
Progress in Human Geography
Vol 32, No 6, pages 739–758;
and Mains, Daniel (2007),
“Neoliberal times: progress,
boredom and shame among
young men in urban Ethiopia”,
American Ethnologist Vol 34,
No 4, pages 659–673.
25. See reference 17, Madise
et al. (2007); also Global Health
Council and the William and
Flora Hewlett Foundation (GHC/
WAFHF) (2004), “Commitments:
youth reproductive health, the
World Bank and the Millennium
Development Goals”, GHC/
WAFHF, Washington DC;
Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor,
Melanie Gallant, Chris
Brouillard-Coyle, Dan Holland,
Karen Metcalfe, Janet Wildish
and Mary Gichuru (2005),
“The sexual scripts of Kenyan
young people and HIV
prevention”, Culture, Health
and Sexuality Vol 7, No 1, page
37; and Weiser, Sheri, Karen
Leiter, David Bangsberg, Lisa
Butler, Fiona Percy-de Korte,
Zakhe Hlanze, Nthabiseng
Phaladze, Vincent Iaocpino and
Michele Heisler (2007), “Food
insufficiency is associated with
high-risk sexual behaviour
among women in Botswana
and Swaziland”, PLOS Medicine
Vol 4, No 10, pages 1589–1598.
26. See also Skramstad, Heidi
(2008), “Making and managing
femaleness, fertility and
motherhood within a Gambian
urban area”, unpublished PhD
thesis, Department of Social
Anthropology, University of
Bergen, page 111.
27. See reference 5, Chant
(2011 forthcoming).
28. See Gambia Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women (GCEDAW)
(2006), United Nations
Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW),
4th Periodic Report of The
Gambia, June 2006, Second
draft, GCEDAW, Banjul, page
53; also Taal, A B S (2003),
“Youth culture tackling poverty
and promoting sustainable
development through multi-
sectoral approach in The Gambia”,
SPACO, Banjul, page 27.
29. See reference 6, Chant
(2007); also see reference 19,
Jah (2007); and see reference
20, Touray et al. (2005).
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359
trader, put it: “…in some compounds [homes], if you bring your girlfriend,
man, you have hell… they will hate you… insult you… girlfriends aren’t
allowed in our society, frankly.” Against this socio-religious backdrop, few
male participants admit to actively pursuing sexual experimentation with
short-term partners. Instead, virtually all stress they want a “serious” (i.e.
committed, modest, respectful and long-term) girlfriend. However, with
time, trust and the narration of life histories, it became apparent that
not all girlfriends are sought as marriage material. Some relationships
are primarily for sexual satisfaction, as well as to serve as evidence of
masculine pride and prowess to other males.
To facilitate sexual relations in a context where young women have
much to lose, especially in terms of social respect, gifts are presented as
economic incentives as well as symbols of affection.
VIII. SEXUAL EXCHANGE
Among young Gambians who enter into premarital sexual relationships,
the practice of gift-giving (henceforth “sexual exchange”) appears to be
as well established as it is in many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and
particularly where there are age and wealth disparities between partners.(32)
There are many reasons and precedents for sexual exchange. In
non-sexual as well as sexual relationships, “caring for someone” (be it
a parent, sibling, partner or friend) means helping them financially.(33)
As Ramatoulie, a 22-year old hairdresser moving on from a long-term
relationship explained: If you love someone, you have to spend.” Momodou,
a 26-year old taxi driver, similarly maintained that: “I like to spend for my
girlfriend… just to show her that I love her, even not that, I like to help her, you
know.”
Although the flow of gifts is generally from men to women, the
reverse is also true. Even if the biggest female-to-male resource transfers
tend to occur in the context of “bumster-toubab (Gambian–white
foreigner) relationships, as discussed below, this is by no means unknown
in other intimate partnerships. For example, one of our male respondents,
Mohammed (a 24-year old who in order to “get by” works intermittently
as a chef, electrician and plumber), reported that his girlfriend used to
allocate him half of the money her parents gave her for school: This is
the most thing I like, that’s why I like, because she did so many favour for me,
you know.”
Where both partners are poor, gifts are typically quite modest –
body lotion, mobile phone credit (which enables one’s beloved to text back
and arrange liaisons), a taxi fare or a soft drink. The gesture itself is usually
appreciated if the young man in question is in straitened circumstances.(34)
By the same token, the bigger and more frequent the gifts, the greater the
likelihood that the relationship will become stronger and more enduring,
especially from the perspective of the primary recipient.
Although the economic dynamics of relationships can be uppermost,
they are usually played down in favour of caring and emotional discourses.
Indeed, pursuit of partners with the sole purpose of financial benefit
and in exchange for sexual favours – is, unsurprisingly, rarely articulated
or celebrated in such stark terms. For example, if one’s “boyfriend” is a
financially well-off older man (“sugar daddy”), a girl tends to protest that
she loves him and resolutely denies that she, unlike “other girls”, gives
30. See reference 5, Chant
(2011 forthcoming).
31. See reference 5, Chant
(2011 forthcoming).
32. See reference 1, Cole
(2009); also see reference 1,
Smith (2009); Ankomah,
Augustine (2004), “Ghana”,
in Robert Francoeur and
Raymond Noonan (editors),
The Continuum Complete
International Encyclopaedia
of Sexuality on the Web,
Continuum, New York, pages
467–478; Ansari, David
and Allyn Gaestel (2010
forthcoming), “Senegalese
religious leaders’ perceptions
of HIV/AIDS and implications
for challenging stigma and
discrimination”, Culture,
Health and Sexuality; Bajaj,
Monisha (2008), “Schooling in
the shadow of death: youth,
agency and HIV/AIDS in
Zambia”, Journal of Asian and
African Studies Vol 43, No 3,
pages 307–329; Karlyn, Andrew
(2005), “Intimacy revealed:
sexual experimentation and
the construction of risk
among young people in
Mozambique”, Culture, Health
and Sexuality Vol 7, No 3,
pages 279–292; Glover, Evam
Kofi, Angela Bannerman,
Brian Wells Pence, Heidi
Jones, Robert Miller, Eugene
Weiss and Joana Nerquaye-
Tetteh (2003), “Sexual health
experiences of adolescents
in three Ghanaian towns”,
International Family Planning
Perspectives Vol 29, No
1, pages 32–40; Jassey,
Katja (2005), “In the eyes
of the beholder: male and
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360
sex out of pecuniary motives, even if she knows her friends really know
through their giggling or quiet raising of the eyebrows. A similar form of
“double-speak” is showcased in other instances, such as with Mam, a 22-
year old unemployed woman. On being asked about the importance of
the financial dimensions of relationships, Mam maintained that: “Money
isn’t important, all I want is love and care, a man who will love and care for
you… he can be poor.” Yet when Tobaski (the most important festival of the
Islamic year) came and Mam’s boyfriend did not buy her new clothes and
shoes, she was infuriated. The relationship has since ended.
Mam’s reaction may stem from the symbolic value of gifts in
representing the extent of a partner’s affection. For example, Ngeer, the
24-year old unemployed daughter of an alkalo (village chief), claimed she
knew her boyfriend truly loved her “...because he give me a phone – a V3.”
A suitor’s love is also taken as evident if he engages in other substantial
expenditure such as paying for a girlfriend’s school fees or buying her
elaborate garments for special occasions such as naming ceremonies.
Demonstrating love, in turn, is among the major reasons motivating
male gift-giving, with proof of masculine power and potential for
provision constituting another important element. Hadim, a 28-year old
teacher trying to earn enough so that he can provide for, and thereby
marry, his fiancée, explained: “Pride will not allow you to be seeing your
girlfriend every day or every time and that she needs something and that you
cannot at least solve one or two problems of hers […] you will have to give her
something to solve her problems.” By solving present-day problems, men
simultaneously indicate their commitment and capacity to take care of
future wives.
Another important reason for gift-giving is to overcome girlfriends’
resistance to sexual intercourse,(35) either by (falsely) conveying emotional
commitment (using the symbolic value of gifts) or by direct financial
incentive.
Suspecting that men may be motivated by the expectation of sexual
favours, some young women do not accept money or gifts. They may be
anxious about the consequences of accepting money, either because this
would suggest that their motives were not “pure”, or because of concerns
about losing their virginity or their reputation for “seriousness”. As Anne
Marie explained:
“When the boy […] keep on giving me money every day, one day
he will […] tell me: ‘I want to sleep with you, you eating my money,
every time, can’t you sleep with me?’ You refuse, he’ll just force me
… When they’re giving you money they want something in return.”
This was echoed by young men, such as Ibrahim, a 22-year old hotel
cabaret performer:
“When you know man give you [girlfriend] money every time, you
know he also expect something from you, he also beg you something,
so, and you will feel shy to deny.”
Ibrahim further explained that if a girlfriend does not reciprocate with
sexual attentions, her expectant boyfriend may force her to comply:
“When you know man always give you [girlfriend] money, but still
she will not give you any chance to have her... So, some, that makes
them to… because he spend always, she don’t spend.”
female agency in relation
to ‘race’, sexuality, love and
money”, Paper presented
at the workshop on Sex and
Gender in Africa: Critical and
Feminist Approaches during
Nordic Africa Days, Nordic
Africa Institute, Uppsala,
30 September–2 October;
and Mufune, Pempelani
(2003), “Changing patterns
of sexuality in northern
Namibia: implications for the
transmission of HIV/AIDS”,
Culture, Health and Sexuality
Vol 5, No 5, pages 425–438.
33. See reference 1, Cole and
Thomas (editors) (2009); also
Nyanzi, Stella, Robert Pool
and John Kinsman (2001),
“The negotiation of sexual
relationships among school
pupils in southwestern
Uganda”, Aids Care Vol 13,
No 1, pages 83–98.
34. See reference 1, Thomas
and Cole (2009).
35. See Swidler, Ann and
Susan Cotts Watkins (2007),
“Ties of dependence: AIDS
and transactional sex in rural
Malawi”, Working Paper CCPR-
2007–025, California Centre
for Population Research, Los
Angeles, page 32; also see
reference 33, Nyanzi et al.
(2001).
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Since acceptance of gifts arouses male expectations of reward and, in
turn, weakens their capacity to refuse sexual advances, girls must balance
their short- and longer-term needs and wants.(36) In the short term,
sexual exchange enables girls to help their parents, to support their
own schooling, or to impress their friends with new clothes or hair-dos,
and thereby compensate for poorly paid (or no) work while avoiding
shameful, and often unsuccessful, begging. Indeed, although parents
may disapprove of daughters having boyfriends, they may tolerate
the situation if they themselves can gain some benefit, or may even
(albeit subtly) encourage them to the bad (i.e. direct them to lucrative
partnerships), as articulated by Anne Marie. By the same token, and from
a longer-term perspective, young women’s reciprocation (i.e. having sex)
risks the contradictory predicament of being disrespected by boyfriends,
future husbands, their families and the wider community, especially if
out-of-wedlock pregnancy occurs. Many single female participants said
that because of these problems they did not want boyfriends. They
regarded education and work as preferable to short-term financial gain.
As Anne Marie explained:
“I don’t like having boyfriends because they are not serious, and they
used to force you for sex. Some, they used to give you money and
say: ‘Let me have sex with you’, and me, I don’t used to do that.
That’s why now I don’t even have a boyfriend. I don’t trust the boys
now. I want to follow my education. If I stay here, have my good job
and help my mum, that’s what I plan. Sometimes when I don’t have
money I will think and think and think: What can I do? I will go and
work! I will go and find a job so that I have money.”
For some young women who manage to get relatively well-paid jobs, the
prospects for negotiating the terms of premarital relationships are likely to
be stronger, as evidenced in a recent World Bank study on Malawi where a
cash transfer programme appears to have reduced young women’s sexual
activity, teenage pregnancy and early marriage.(37) However, even if some
young women still choose to have boyfriends, primarily for pleasure and
recreation and on their own terms, others may have little option other
than to accept boyfriends as a route to greater financial security and to
access goods that they could otherwise not afford.
IX. MAXIMIZING RETURNS: MULTIPLE PARTNERSHIPS
In a context of widespread economic hardship not all young men can
satisfy financial requests. Many struggle on low, irregular incomes and are
dependent on their families for food, shelter and even daily living expenses.
Some do have disposable income but, in order to fulfil their filial duty and
secure respect from natal relatives, they may find themselves having to
prioritize buying a bag of rice for household use over “frittering” away
money on girlfriends. Moreover, it is often judged unwise to invest scarce
resources in a girl who may later disappoint by being unfaithful, even
if not spending may jeopardize a relationship or its sexual exclusivity.
Indeed, ask any young Gambian man and he will tell you that most girls
“follow money”. They pursue males for money, evaluate the financial
status of those who proposition them, and desert or are unfaithful to
36. See reference 25, Maticka-
Tyndale et al. (2005), page
34. Not all young women, of
course, necessarily wish to
refuse these advances.
37. Baird, Sarah, Ephraim
Chirwa, Craig McIntosh and
Berk Özler (2009), “The short-
term impacts of a schooling
conditional cash transfer
programme on the sexual
behaviour of young women”,
Policy Research Working
Paper 5089, Impact Evaluation
Series No 40, World Bank
Development Research Group,
Poverty and Inequality Team,
Washington DC.
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those who are short of funds. As expressed by Mohammed, a 24-year old
chef, electrician and plumber:
“If you are chasing a girl, before she accept, she will like to know
whether you are [financially] strong or not... They don’t care for
boys unless you get. That is the main problem here in The Gambia
between the boys and the girls.”
An ever present threat to young men is that the women they are
interested in may be enticed by the appearance of more financially
rewarding relationship opportunities. In the words of Baboucar, a 27-
year old tailor:
“You see your friend, his [the girl’s] boyfriend, having car, you know,
and they’re enjoying, having good time, giving them [the girl] money
so they [she] can buy clothes, you know, she can wake up, she can
buy breakfast, you know.”
It is also recognized that in order to maximize their economic returns,
young women may engage in multiple relationships. A number of male
informants (especially taxi drivers who knew their movements) told us
about girls who were having affairs with up to four men, and had an array
of mobile phones to show for it (all on different networks to ensure that
a liaison with one man would not be interrupted by a call from another,
or discovered as easily, given the common practice for partners to check
each others’ text messages).(38)
As part and parcel of the perceived prevalence of pecuniary motives
in young women’s sexual strategies, young Gambian men often refer to
being sidelined by women of their own age. As expressed by Abdoulie
(a 30-year old woodcarver who shares a bed with a male friend due to
a lack of alternatives), “...rather than to be with someone who is the same
age, they will underrate because you’ve got nothing to give.” Almost all male
participants complained that “material love” and “the vanity system”
make it “very hard” for those without cash to find true love. Almost
invariably, they also attributed the termination of past relationships to
their weak financial positions. Sar, a 27-year old handyman, said that his
girlfriend of four years left him for another man (financially) stronger
than him”. Unlike her new paramour, Sar said that he “...don’t got much…”
and could “...not follow in doing so many things for her.” Saul, a 24-year
old woodcarver, similarly explained that when he was unable to satisfy
the material requests of a previous girlfriend she would “…change her
face”, become “…so stressed” and sometimes “…not even speak with him”.
Furthermore, even if poor young men are accepted, these relationships
are often insecure: their girlfriends may leave them later for a better offer
or take on additional partners – being with one man for love and another
(or more) for economic security.(39)
Young men’s frustration at their sexual marginalization tends to
be channelled into expressions of resentment against girls for being
“materially minded” rather than being directed to rich “old daddies” or
structures of economic inequality. This in a sense credits women with
agency, and contrasts with the findings of research in Mandeni, South
Africa, where the sexual marginalization of poor young men appears to be
associated with antagonism towards wealthier men’s domination of, and
consumption within, the sexual economy.(40)
38. See reference 5, Chant
(2011 forthcoming).
39. See reference 1, Cole
(2009) on Madagascar; also see
reference 1, Smith (2009) on
Nigeria.
40. Hunter, Mark (2002), “The
materiality of everyday sex:
thinking beyond ‘prostitution’”,
African Studies Vol 61, No 1,
pages 109–110.
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Men’s financial insecurity jeopardizes not only premarital dating but
also their marriage prospects. Although Saul loved his second girlfriend,
and her parents approved of him, since he was not in a position to provide
independent accommodation or contribute to the costs of upkeep on her
family compound, the relationship came to a halt. Francis, a 34-year old
woodcarver, similarly lost a girlfriend to an arranged marriage because
he was “...not yet strong enough and they would not wait.” Their co-worker,
Solomon (27 years old), also wanted to marry his girlfriend but he was “...
not that much strong and not ready to handle myself, or someone else… Even
myself… to take care of myself is a problem.” While pride usually prevents
confessions of feeling devalued by partners, families and society at large,
these tended to surface over time with those to whom we became trusted
confidantes.
What we find then is that the stage of “youth” seems to be expanding;
bleak economic realities prevent young men’s social graduation to
adulthood. This Gambian dynamic of prolonged adolescence is echoed
by research on urban Egypt,(41) Ethiopia(42) and Madagascar,(43) and is
widely regarded as a negative state by young men themselves, as well as
by others.
For women, by contrast, we contend that prolonged adolescence
may turn out to be more favourable, not least because it provides
them with a greater array of options and freedoms than they generally
have in marriage. In light of this, while most studies on sexuality
highlight young women’s vulnerability and weak capacity to refuse
intercourse, demand contraceptives or terminate physically abusive
relationships,(44) our research suggests that more attention should be
given to constraining influences on the manoeuvres of men, particularly
young low-income men.
X. JUSTIFICATIONS FOR SEXUAL EXCHANGE AND MULTIPLE
RELATIONSHIPS
Although, as previously noted, young women themselves generally play
down multiple partnerships, they also maintain that men tend to be
financially irresponsible as well as unfaithful, especially once married, so
they might as well be with “strong” men who can afford to help them
out. This resonates with work in Malawi where Moore,(45) with reference
to fieldwork by Swidler and Watkins,(46) notes that: “Both women and men
try not only to secure a ‘main’ partner, but a series of back-ups or ‘spare tyres
as they are known in the Malawian context, in case things go wrong or the
fortunes of the main partner take a downward turn.” One of our interviewees,
Fatoumata, a 24-year old hairdresser, confessed to having two boyfriends
and being unsure about which admirer to settle on – one being relatively
young (in his thirties) with some prospects, although the major appeal
resided in his good looks and charm, and the other being a man in his
fifties who was providing substantial economic support to her and her
family.
Even if accepting money may entail sexual favours for men whom
young women do not find especially attractive, this also ensures that young
women derive some benefit from boyfriends, who are widely portrayed
as “unserious” (unfaithful). Such stereotypes are not unwarranted.
Baboulowe (27, a tailor) and Momodou (26, a taxi driver) labelled their
41. Singerman, Diane (2007),
“The economic imperatives of
marriage: emerging practices
and identities among youth
in the Middle East”, Working
Paper 6, Wolfensohn Centre for
Development/ Dubai School of
Government, Dubai.
42. See reference 24, Mains
(2007).
43. Cole, Jennifer (2005),
“The Jaombilo of Tamatave
(Madagascar), 1992–2004:
reflections on youth and
globalization”, Journal of Social
History Vol 38, No 4, page 897.
44. Dunkle, Kristin L, Rachel
Jewkes, Mzikazi Nduna,
Jonathan Levin, Yandisa
Sikweyiya and Mary P Koss
(2007), “Transactional sex with
casual and main partners
among young South African
men in the rural Eastern Cape:
prevalence, predictors and
associations with gender-based
violence”, Social Science and
Medicine Vol 65, No 6, pages
1235–1248.
45. See reference 1, Moore
(2010), page 39.
46. See reference 35, Swidler
and Watkins (2007).
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dating strategy “…the four Fs – find them, friend them, fuck them, forget
them’.” Mindful of such pitfalls, Soffie (21, unemployed) explained:
“This small, small [young and financially weak] boyfriends, she will
love them. After, those boys they are going to find another person,
every time your heart will break, it’s better to find a big [financially
strong] boyfriend who will give her, because if she has nobody she
will go and have sex with them anyway so it’s better for him [her] to
have a big boy, it’s better than having sex with this small boy, they
cannot give her anything, they know that she is no more a virgin,
[s]he can go and find a big man who can give her.”
Such advice turned personal when Soffie (who has a 71-year old sugar
daddy as well as a younger lover) mocked Chilel (a 22-year old single
mother with three boyfriends) for being with “small boys”. In defence,
Chilel protested that her partners gave her substantial amounts of money.
In such circles, having a generous boyfriend who provides money and
new clothes for naming ceremonies, weddings and “neighbourhood
programmes” (community parties and processions), thereby disguising
poverty, is instrumental to self-esteem and respect.
The concern to disguise poverty relates to our earlier discussion of the
shame of being poor(47) and the consequent reluctance to reveal personal
difficulties by asking for help. However, the particular risks associated
with asking for money are reduced in the context of intimate relations.
This is partly because those asking are generally young women, who are
not supposed to be breadwinners. Thus it is less shameful for them to
admit to financial weakness. For a young man to reveal his girlfriend’s
financial problems would also require him to divulge that he is solving
those problems with money and thereby implicitly paying for sex (with
a girl whom others might regard as “using” him). This runs the risk of
undermining his masculinity. As such, expenditure on girlfriends is
rarely discussed openly with male peers. Nor are young men prone to be
candid with their families about sexual exchanges, not only because of
the opprobrium attached to premarital relations but also because families
may get jealous of resource transfers going outside the household. To
reveal a girlfriend’s secrets would also betray trust from the man’s side,
even if his girlfriend(s) may flaunt gifts as evidence of adoration. So for
those keen to retain affections, requests and related problems are kept as
discreet as possible.
By the same token, in a general context of secrecy and subterfuge most
men come to distrust women’s motivations, recognize that their partners
may be unfaithful and adjust their own commitment accordingly, most
notably in the form of maintaining a string of concurrent partnerships
or “back-up girlfriends”.(48) Although men’s engagement in multiple
sexual relations arguably has deep historical roots, not least in its formal
incarnation in polygamous marriage, young men in our survey almost
invariably justified their behaviour as a response to the fickleness of
women. As reported by Alieu, a 26-year old taxi driver, for example: They
[girls] are looking for the vanity system… so that’s why a lot of boy become
playboy, because of the girls. Here it is not easy to have true love if you don’t have
cash.” Add to this the fact that men may also actively foster relationships
with foreign women to maximize economic gain, and a situation arises in
which neither women nor men trust each other very much.(49)
47. See reference 6, Chant
(2007).
48. See reference 1, Moore
(2010); also see reference 35,
Swidler and Watkins (2007).
49. See reference 32, Jassey
(2005).
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XI. THE ECONOMICS OF YOUNG MEN’S SEXUAL STRATEGIES:
“BUMSTER-TOUBAB” RELATIONSHIPS
Given the constraints to forging partnerships with Gambian women of
their own age, and in light of limited local employment opportunities and
mounting restrictions on overseas migration, a number of men pursue
sexual relationships with more mature, non-Gambian female tourists or
expatriates. Men who seek toubab partnerships are often referred to as
“bumsters”, especially where they routinely hang out on the beach or in
other tourist spots such as bars and nightclubs in the hope of expanded
possibilities for economic gain or a much-coveted visa to “Babylon”.(50)
While “bumster-toubabrelationships may appear at odds with the
notional norm of Gambian men as providers, the actual workings of
these relationships often enable men to fulfil this role, not only for their
natal kin but also for Gambian wives and girlfriends.(51) This ensures a
higher standard of living and also respect. As confirmed by one of our
respondents, Alieu, a 26-year old taxi driver: Even if you have your own
mamma, European old mamma, you live any time, better than these people here.”
And 27-year old Sea Boy, so named by his 50-year old Belgian girlfriend
whom he had met on the beach, seemed fiercely proud running a small
taxi business that she had helped him establish: I am in a good situation
now. I am having cars. I have small thing [money] to help my family. And
we travel...”, the latter being a virtually ubiquitous aspiration for young
Gambian men.(52) Equally paramount is to obtain and demonstrate signs
of success. For those who have managed to secure a toubab wife, these
conventionally include, inter alia, a compound, a car and remittances
from overseas employment.
But money alone is not enough. Careful stage-managing of public
appearances is also required to secure respect. For example, on evenings
out with his friends, Canadian Jen’s husband (a Gambian waiter) arranges
that she gives him money in advance so that in front of friends he assumes
his proper place as provider.
Financial rewards are also not the only incentives. Kebba and Pa
Modou, two 24-year old security guards at a Belgian-run school, now seek
a “white lady”, “...because they are easy to go with... they never lie to you... and
they know what is love.” In contrast, their “material-minded” ex-Gambian
girlfriends “...pretend, but they don’t give real love to you... they betray you.”
Sheik, a 24-year old gym attendant, similarly declared: I see no love in The
Gambia here without money. I want a white lady who will love me for my very
self.” Recognizing that this discourse may have been used strategically
because we were both foreigners from “Babylon”, the comments chime
with those made to Jassey (admittedly another Western woman) that “...
if you were lucky you would get more love from the white women because they
cared for you and didn’t just want their money like the local girls.”(53)
For economic advancement, social respect and emotional security,
“bumster-toubab” relationships can be mutually beneficial,(54) even if
negative stories abound about betrayed toubabs whose lovers wave them
off from Banjul International Airport only to await the possibilities of
“new prey” disembarking from the charter flight that they themselves
are leaving on, or who bring their foreign wives back to The Gambia to
the unforewarned and rather brutal shock that the men already have a
girlfriend, wife, children or all three. There are also dissatisfied Gambian
men. For example, unable to obtain a visa to her native Canada or a smart
50. See reference 15; also see
reference 32, Jassey (2005); see
reference 25, Maticka-Tyndale
et al. (2005); and Nyanzi, Stella,
Ousman Rosenberg-Jallow,
Ousman Bah and Susan
Nyanzi (2005), “Bumsters, big
black organs and old white
gold: embodied racial myths
in sexual relationships of
Gambian beach boys”, Culture,
Health and Sexuality Vol 7,
No 6, pages 557–569.
51. See reference 32, Jassey
(2005), page 22.
52. On the desire for migration,
given young men’s frustrations
with alternatives in the context
of neoliberal restructuring, see
reference 24, Mains (2007).
53. See reference 32, Jassey
(2005), page 20.
54. See reference 50, Nyanzi
et al. (2005), page 566.
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E N VI R ON M E N T & U R BA N I Z AT I O N Vol 22 No 2 October 2010
366
compound in The Gambia, Jen’s Gambian waiter husband reported feeling
frustrated and “embarrassed” that he has “...been married three years, with
nothing to show for it.”
Although “bumster-toubab” relationships form part of diversified
livelihood strategies used by young Gambian men to fulfil local
constructions of masculinity in a context of economic scarcity, this
situation is not entirely without historical precedent. Just as young
Gambian women have often been attracted by the possibilities of
economic security with marriage to an older male, young men (waxam
bane in Wollof, the indigenous lingua franca) in the past sometimes
made the passage from “small boy” to aspired adult male (maag) status
by marrying an older Gambian woman (jeg), who could not only prove to
the rest of the community that he was “strong enough” to win the regard
of a mature companion but who could also help set him up in business
and as the main breadwinner. However, in the contemporary context,
such cross-generational relationships between young men and older
women have tended to increase with the growth of international tourism,
since foreign women are comparatively rich by Gambian standards as
well as being unconstrained by local mores of female sexuality. While in
a variety of contexts young women are more likely to “follow money”
because they are less financially secure(55) in The Gambia, young men
are usually no less preoccupied by monetary security and advancement,
and have an opportunity, through international tourism, to use sex as
a basis of economic gain. In light of this it is appropriate to explain the
gendered dynamics of sexuality-based resource transfers, not only with
reference to the characteristics of gift seekers but also to the characteristics
of gift givers. The gendered direction of resource transfers is shaped by the
availability of people whose “respect” is not jeopardized by engaging in
out-of-wedlock sexual relations and who have the disposable income to
entice potential partners. Among Gambians, it has traditionally been men
rather than women who fulfil these conditions. Yet this has now been
disrupted by the influx of relatively rich, older foreign women seeking
romance on terms that are radically different from those that might apply
between young Gambian male and female peers.
XII. CONCLUSIONS AND REFLECTIONS
Young people’s sexual relations in The Gambia appear to be heavily
influenced by the often intersecting concerns of economic security and
social respect, as well as being motivated by affection, pleasure and the
desire for physical and emotional intimacy and support.
In some cases, young people’s desires are fulfilled by one partner
alone. In such cases, gift-giving may be used to symbolize appreciation,
commitment, concern to help one’s beloved and ability to spend. However,
one person is not always enough. Perhaps a partner’s commitment is
doubted, or another relationship is regarded as more sexually appealing
or more financially lucrative either in the short or long term. Such
considerations tend to undermine commitments to monogamous pre-
marital and conjugal relationships.
In a context of resource scarcity, young women and young men come
to regard their sexuality as a livelihood asset, albeit for rather different
reasons and in rather different ways. To secure basic well-being (more the
55. See reference 17; also
Poulin, Michelle (2007),
“Sex, money and premarital
partnerships in southern
Malawi”, Social Science and
Medicine Vol 65, No 11,
pages 2383–2393.
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YOUNG LOVE AND URBAN POVERTY IN THE GAMBIA
367
case with women) and/or to advance economically (more the case with
men), some young people engage in multiple sexual relations, or desert
those deemed unsatisfactory. While such strategies may temporarily
disguise income poverty, they also seem to perpetuate a vicious spiral of
gender antagonism wherein young people frequently despair that those
of the “opposite sex” are “not serious”.
The case of “bumster-toubab” relationships illustrates that economic
resource transfers do not necessarily flow in a male-to-female direction.
The gendered dynamics of sexual exchange are highly contingent not only
on the pecuniary insecurities and motives of gift seekers but also on the
relative economic and social gaps between gift seekers and their potential
donors in particular times and places. The availability of relatively rich,
romantically inclined foreign female tourists, unconstrained at least in
the initial stages of courtship by local gendered religious sexual mores,(56)
encourages young Gambian men to instrumentalize their sexuality in a
manner parallel to their female peers, even if other motivations also feature,
as evidenced by some young men seeking toubab girlfriends in the hope
of reciprocated emotional commitment. The fact that sanctions against
premarital sex among men are less than among women, and that men
are in a stronger position to establish their own businesses are also critical
factors in distinguishing male and female approaches to relations with the
opposite sex, even if it is clear that many young persons pursue intimate
partnerships mainly or partially for material gain. This can overshadow
affective dimensions and frequently entails the concealing of truths –
about depth of feeling, infidelity, conjugal status and so on – from close
ones. Notwithstanding Thomas and Cole’s(57) caution that polarizations
between “love” (supposedly signifying altruism and inducing care and
consideration for others) and money (motivated primarily by self-interest
and associated with weaker sentimental attachment) are frequently
overdrawn as well as often deeply “entangled in practice”, one discernible
outcome in the Gambian context appears to be a lack of mutual trust
in heterosexual couples. This raises questions not only about the social
ramifications of economic inequality at national and international levels
but also about the premises on which achieving advances towards gender
egalitarianism in Gambian society as whole might be founded.
56. Interestingly, a number of
European women who end up
marrying their Gambian suitors
convert to Islam as a means of
enhancing the social respect of
their partners.
57. See reference 1, Thomas
and Cole (2009), page 23.
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... This paucity of research on infertility in West Africa is also reflected in the few studies conducted in The Gambia [2,15]. The Gambia has a score of 0.641 on the gender inequality index indicating high levels of gender inequality [40][41][42][43][44][45]. The total fertility rate remains high in The Gambia with 5.8 live births per woman [46]. ...
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In Madagascar, the cultural and economic changes that have accompanied economic liberalization have also seen the emergence of the jaombilo, a young man supported by the money that a woman earns from sex work. In this article, I explore the structural forces that have contributed to the emergence of the jaombilo as well as the more subjective process through which young men become jaombilo. I argue that the category of the jaombilo emerged because of the particular ways in which global economic change articulates with local conceptions of youth, gender and economy. I further suggest that the case of the jaombilo challenges the assumption that youth is a normative phase on the way to adulthood. Instead, I argue that for young men in Madagascar, youth is a phase that they cannot escape. Much as savages were figured as "children" in the 19th century evolutionary discourse, many contemporary Malagasy young men have become perpetual youth, and perpetually poor, thereby challenging normative models of human development that emerged in the context of modernity.
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Drawing on grassroots activism by the women's rights NGO GAMCOTRAP (Gambian Committee on Traditional Practices), this article considers contested forms of sexuality in the Gambia. Among these are polygamy, early marriage, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, marital/ statutory rape, forced retirement by spouse from sex due to menopause, trafficking in women, and lesbianism. Arguments relating to Gambian culture and Islam are central to the contestations around these issues. For example, some men cite articles in the Koran as justifying polygamy, and many women accept this as their right. In fact, the Koran condones polygamy only where all wives are treated with equal justice, a condition it describes as impossible, thus monogamy can be inferred to be the recommended course of action. The reality is that many women suffer when their husbands take other wives. The author cites grievances, for example men's material contributions decrease, and they may also cease having sex with older wives leaving them unsatisfied but unable to leave the marriage or seek sex elsewhere due to social and economic constraints.