In this series we introduce you to IAM’s regional partners. The team from NYARWEK (the Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Kenya LGBTI Network) tells us about the work the organisation is undertaking to tackle the continued discrimination faced by the LGBTI community in Kenya on multiple levels.

LGBTI persons in Kenya remain a criminalized population exposed to myriad rights violations, the provisions of the Bill of Rights in Kenya’s 2010 constitution nothwithstanding. The violations are perpetrated by various actors including law enforcement agencies, the education sector, health sector and the society in general, which has been accused of fanning stigma and discrimination towards LGBTI persons in many spaces. LGBTI persons can be arrested, arraigned in a court of law, charged for being who they are and imprisoned for up to 14 years.

NYARWEK was formed in 2009 to champion for the rights of LGBTI persons, sensitize service providers and create a platform for dialogue between the LGBTI community and the larger society.

Daniel Onyango, NYARWEK’s Executive Director

In order to challenge the continued criminalization of same sex conduct, NYARWEK works on legal challenges to end discrimination. A recently filed petition in Kenya’s High Court is expected to result in a ruling 24 May 2019. The legal challenge has attracted large numbers of radical evangelicals supported by the World Congress of Families. The opponents of the challenge have turned Kenya’s faith space into a theatre of fear mongering and homophobic preaching, radicalising their followers to take up arms and exterminate ‘homosexuals’.

In order to address discrimination in terms of service provision, NYARWEK engages in sensitisation work targeting health service providers, law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary. Positive results have been obtained in this regard.

To address stigma and discrimination at family, community and societal levels, NYARWEK. sensitises cultural and faith leaders, finding common ground in the shared values of tolerance, respect for all and most importantly for people to uphold love.

In Kenya’s religious society, which identifies as majority Christian and includes a sizable Islamic community, faith leaders hold the key to resolving conflict and LGBTI discrimination. They have made it difficult for people of faith to be more accommodating of people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions without feeling as though they are compromising their faith. NYARWEK has therefore invested in developing an engagement manual called SAFE Spaces which we use to sensitize faith leaders to preach more messages of inclusivity and contribute to the reduction in violence.

Some participants at a training of NYARWEK’s SAFE Spaces manual in Kisumu, Kenya

It’s in this line that NYARWEK cherishes our partnership with IAM, which has experience in catalysing transformation using a methodology that opens minds, hearts and doors to greater acceptance and inclusion of LGBTI people within faith communities. Our dialogue sessions have yielded more impact thanks to the nuggets of wisdom emanating from this close collaboration. Suffice it to say that IAM’s wheel of change gave birth to NYARWEK’s SAFE Spaces manual. This partnership, which dates back to 2012, has been the food that feeds the soul of NYARWEK as it delves deeper into faith work as an avenue to contribute more tolerance and respect for the rights of LGBTI persons.