Just out of graduate school in Mexico City, Lissette Marquez longed to travel the world on an American cruise ship.
She was thrilled to obtain a guest-worker visa that allowed her to join a ship crew in California. But instead of the ideal job she had envisioned, Marquez said she found herself toiling long hours, earning less than a $4 hourly wage, and feeling isolated.
After her husband died, Margaret, 55, saw no alternative but to sell her body in order to feed her four children. She would walk down to Lake Victoria every day to buy fish to sell in the market. But first she had to have sex with a fisherman. For at least the past two decades, fishermen at Lake Victoria have demanded sex before selling their catch to female fish traders.
Mary Elias, of Laje village in Malawi’s southern Zomba district, speaks in metaphors. “We are carrying both water cans,” she says of the situation for single mothers in drought-ridden Malawi—meaning that women with children but without partners are solely responsible for feeding, clothing, and educating their progeny. Already a Sisyphean task in a country the United Nations Development Program regularly ranks in the top 20 poorest on earth, this has become nearly impossible in the past few years.