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Homophobic Violence Hinders HIV Response in Kenya

Patrick Mutisya

As the world embarks on an ambitious strategy to end AIDS by 2030, failure to protect the sexual and human rights of sexual minorities is putting this goal and many lives at risk.

In Kenya, as in many countries, men who have sex with men are cursed, rejected and even criminalised. Living in such a society prevents many from accessing HIV prevention services and health care. As a result HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is three times higher than in the general population (Avert).

Even though the Kenyan constitution, declared in 2010, is supposed to grant quality health care as a human right to everyone, for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) accessing medical services in public hospitals simply isn’t an option.

Healthcare discrimination

Joysh Gidon,* officer for the Kenya Society for Attitude Change and Study of Sexual Minorities, reports: “I went to one of the public hospitals to seek treatment for an anal problem, but when the nurse realised my condition, she screamed loudly calling other nurses to come and witness ‘the strange phenomenon’.”

The nurse called the police who arrested Gidon for suspicion of engaging in same sex activity, but the case was difficult to prove in a court of law. Gidon has never dared to visit a public clinic since but visits private clinics which are expensive. “Such ordeals scare most LGBTI people from accessing health services and as a result, they don’t even want to test for HIV to know their status and this causes further spread of the virus,” said Gidon.

Physical abuse

Gidon was also fired with no remuneration, simply because his boss suspected him of being gay. His experience of discrimination is by no means unusual and men who are perceived as gay in Kenya face stigma and abuse in all aspects of their lives.

James Mutua explains how he was attacked by a mob: “They molested me on my way to the market place saying that I was walking like a gay. When I went to report to the police, it was worse. The police officers thoroughly beat me up, chasing me out of the station. They refused completely to listen to me thus I let the case go. I ran away from my home area in shame and fearing for my life.

“When you go to the police as an MSM [man who has sex with men], they deter you from accessing legal services, when you go to the hospital no one cares about you. The public may beat you up when they suspect you, or even sodomise you without knowing you have HIV. You therefore get confused with the kind of world you’re living in.”

Human rights and sexual health

Article 27 of the Kenyan constitution speaks of equality and freedom from discrimination, but according to Ester Waweru, a lawyer and programme officer at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, discrimination deters many individuals from accessing and enjoying their rights and services.

Waweru said: “We do not have sexual orientation and gender identity expressly provided for under article 27 but we have sex as a prohibited ground for discrimination.” If Kenya’s constitution is going to be implemented so that everyone enjoys equal rights, Waweru believes everyone must adopt a more open, progressive interpretation of article 27 going, beyond the traditional interpretation of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Human rights violations

Human rights and sexual health rights are interdependent and can’t be de-linked. In addition to article 27, article 43 states that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services. Yet across Kenya LGBTI people face numerous violations of their human rights every day. These violations drive many into lives of secrecy, making it impossible to access appropriate sexual health services.

If Kenya is serious about attaining zero new HIV infections it must make stronger laws and policies that help combat stigma and discrimination, and ensure the constitution is upheld, protecting the human rights of all.

Inevitably Kenya isn’t the only country facing such challenges and around the world at least 78 countries have homophobic laws. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has just launched Write Us In, a new global campaign to ensure equitable access to healthcare for LGBTI people. It will take a concerted effort from civil society if LGBTI people’s human rights are to be upheld around the world. Joining the campaign is one way to make a start.

Published By Patrick Mutisya
Copyright © 2011 Africa Science News

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