NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan advocacy groups are demanding representation in the country’s government-funded human rights body in order to champion their interests in a bid to end inequality and discrimination against them.
The groups that advocate on behalf of lesbians, bisexuals, queer and gender non-conforming people in a report released in May note their exclusion from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights representation has contributed to the elusive realization of equal rights that other citizens enjoy.
The report, dubbed “An Economic Justice Report for LBQGNC in Kenya,” details continued discrimination against LGBTQ Kenyans in employment opportunities, financial services and government social empowerment funding.
This situation is despite the country recording progressive women’s economic inclusion, whose rate, according to Kenya’s Bureau of Statistics data, is 40 percent in urban areas and 22 percent in parts of the country. This figure is attributed to favorable laws and policies that allow equal and active participation of women in economic activities.
The report notes discrimination against queer people in employment in both public and private sectors due to homophobia has forced most of them to become entrepreneurs, including models, with some benefiting from the government’s social empowerment funding.
“The Kenyan government should ensure that a minimum of one commissioner is included in the makeup of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights whose focus will be to represent all members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the 52-page report reads.
The Kenya Human Rights Organization, which advocates for equal rights, regardless of one’s gender identity and sexual orientation, had made a similar demand to help address anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The push to have an LGBTQ representative comes at a time when intersex people in Kenya have a commissioner on the KNHCR who advocates for their rights following their recognition in law last year as the country’s third sex.
To address the problem of discrimination in employment, the report wants the government and other relevant players to establish an employment agency for the queer community to help form networks among LGBTQ-friendly businesses.
“Financial institutions could also support LBQGNC businesses by providing attractive interest rates for loans and reasonable repayment deadlines. This can be better achieved through partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations to help identify businesses run by LBQGNC persons,” the report reads.
It urges banks and other financial institutions to set up departments or teams in charge of identifying and addressing LGBTQ Kenyans’ financial needs, reviewing provisions that limit their access to certain products and services. This includes limitations to opening joint accounts that are only open to heterosexual married couples, the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations and legal recognition of same-sex partners.
The report, whose data collection entailed desktop research and interviewing of LGBTQ people in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and cities that include Mombasa and Kisumu, notes continued discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continues to have an impact in education: LGBTQ people face expulsion from school, bullying and stigma.
The rejection and discrimination against LGBTQ people, according to the report, starts with the family, relatives and the community, where they are sometimes subjected to forced moral “conversion” to confirm to society.
“From a human rights perspective, practices such as conversion ‘therapy’ ought to be denounced, with many countries having taken steps towards ensuring its eradication within their jurisdictions,” the report reads.
The so-called conversion therapy methods are varied and may include electro-shock therapy and forced administration of medication to induce drowsiness and lethargy, one of the survivors who also almost died said.
“This is the sad reality faced by too many LBQGNC people in Kenya to this day, at the basis of which is the religious, cultural, and overall societal discrimination against the people in this community,” reads the report.
Kenya’s Education Ministry in March established a Chaplains Committee comprising religious leaders from various denominations to provide counseling to students who identify as LGBTQ to stop its so-called infiltration in schools. The controversial Supreme Court ruling in February that allowed LGBTQ NGOs to register prompted this decision.
The ruling, which has been appealed to the attorney general, sparked criticism from clerics and political leaders since Section 162 of the Penal Code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts with 14 years prison term.
The LGBTQ rights groups want Kenya’s new curriculum, especially on social ethics and religious education, reviewed and to embrace sexual orientation and gender identity by recognizing LGBTQ people as normal and not “social outcasts.”
“Additionally, ensure that the school environment fosters respect for all people, human rights, and each child’s family values in an atmosphere of understanding, tolerance, and equality,” the report states.
The report asks the government to require all schools to have anti-bullying policies that protect LGBTQ persons and teachers undergo training on diversity and inclusion to promote gender equality. The groups also want the government to guarantee equal access to reproductive healthcare and HIV/AIDS information and treatment that recognizes and respects the needs of LGBTQ people.
The report also seeks a policy paper to help health practitioners and medical students how to work with queer people.