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Kenya's LGBTQ community faces increased abuse during pandemic

Kenya has acknowledged that COVID-19 restrictions are fueling cases of gender-based-violence but has been less open on abuses against the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and activists say many are afraid to report abuse or get medical help because of stigma.

Twenty-eight year-old Rebecca Adhiambo’s family shunned her after discovering two years ago that she is a lesbian. When her neighbors found out, she was insulted, evicted, and - in September - attacked. She says she was on her way home from the market to prepare a meal after a long day of doing casual work in Eastleigh. Someone approached her from behind, a crowd gathered, and some were shouting that she should leave the neighborhood. They started beating her and threw away all that she bought at the market. Said Athmani documents cases of attacks on the LGBTQ community. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March, he says there’s been a jump in cases of abuse. “Curfew is in place, some people don’t go to work, so they stay in their locality. Our locality here is Pumwani, when people notice and recognize that in our neighborhood, we have LGBTQ+ persons, they start to abuse them, they start to victimize them, in a way they feel that they do not want them here,” Athmani said. The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) says during the pandemic it has been logging up to 10 attacks per month on the LGBTQ community. Kenya’s government raised an alarm on increased cases of gender-based-violence but has offered no targeted help for LGBTQ people. Donna Awuor, the security coordinator at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, says it all boils down to acceptance. “Inclusivity is still foreign to most of these mainstream organizations and they try to sideline us because they feel like we do not deserve to be in those spaces, that we do not deserve to get the opportunities or resources that are available because of who we are or how we identify,” Awuor said. Kenya is considered among the most progressive African countries. But the country's High Court in 2019 upset activists by upholding a colonial-era law that punishes homosexual acts with up to 14 years in prison. Kelly Imathiu is a programs officer at Hivos, a development aid organization that provides financial support to organizations working in Africa, Latin America and Asia-- that seek new solutions to persistent global issues “It’s been really difficult to engage the government in LGBT conversations, especially when you want to bring the case out that you have a section of the population that is really suffering,” Imathiu said. When asked to speak on LGBTQ abuse, Kenya’s Ministry of Gender and Social Services referred a reporter to the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.

This article was published by Voice of America.


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