Creating Spaces for LGBTI Rights in East Africa

June 24, 2013

Hivos partner Uhai EASHRI played host to activists from the sex worker and LGBTI movements in the East Africa region during the fourth ‘Changing Faces Changing Spaces’ (CFCS) regional conference. The three-day meeting held in the beautiful Rift Valley area of Kenya brought together over 200 attendees from feminist movements, women’s rights, human rights and health activists, as well as donor partners.

The conference was held under the theme, ‘Umoja, ujima and kujichagulia’ – exploring, celebrating and internalising ideas of unity, collective work and responsibility, and self-determination.  

In a break from tradition, the conference was attended by delegates from outside the East Africa region, attracting representatives from right across the continent. 

“There are few spaces where the African LGBTI and sex worker movements have a moment to take stock of their progress and discuss how to proceed forward, and this conference continues to provide such a forum for the movement, “ says Happy Kinyili, the Director of Programmes at Uhai EASHRI.

In a region that describes itself as conservative and often intolerant to the rights and needs of sexual minorities, meetings like CFCS offer a sense of camaraderie for the activists who often work in isolation within their respective regions.

“We support this kind of exercise because of the importance of capacity building. This conference is a good opportunity to bring our partner Ji-Sort and Uhai into this process,” says Hivos’ Fabienne Simenel, International Programme Officer for Rights and Citizenship. “We develop strategies with our partners, and CFCS offers a peer-learning process. We try to facilitate such processes as much as we can.”

With delegates from South Africa in attendance, East African activists were able to learn from the Southern African experience in the area of litigation. Establishing legal avenues to fight discriminatory laws against Africa’s sexual minorities and establishing a social presence within respective countries are strategies being considered to battle homophobia in the East Africa region. 

The debate on homosexuality in Africa is highly emotive, with a number of African governments threatening to make life harder for sexual minorities. Meetings like CFCS are a testament that the movement in Africa is growing and the battle for equality and inclusion is far from over.

Hivos is currently working with 49 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations in East and Southern Africa that participate in tailor-made training programmes that strengthens their capacity and internal organisation.