How the UK is helping marginalised groups access safe sex information, services and support in Kenya
Anthony, 24, is a volunteer at Ishtar, a community-based organisation in Nairobi that specializes in working with men who have sex with men (MSM) on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and reproductive health rights.
Ishtar is a member of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO) which is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance currently benefiting from UK aid through a 3 year programme partnership agreement.
“It’s been a long journey, a challenging journey, coming to terms with my sexuality. I was just starting to get comfortable with it when I was sexually abused, so it has been a difficult time in my life.”, says Anthony.
Access to safe sex information and services
Around the time he was abused, 4 years ago, Anthony also found out that he was HIV positive. “To start with I wasn’t getting any services. It wasn’t easy to get them. But then I began getting involved with peer education, not for men who have sex with men specifically, but for young people in general”, he said.
Through the peer network, Anthony found out about Ishtar and the wide range of services it offers. Ishtar hosts monthly voluntary counselling and testing sessions at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) centre, open forums and peer education. Services at Ishtar include the provision of condoms and lube, together with safer sex information. They also network and advocate around MSM and gay issues, run post test clubs and has a range of social activities. Until recently there was little safe sex information that acknowledged unprotected anal sex as being a high risk for HIV transmission.
Anthony is 1 of the youngest people involved with Ishtar.
“I wanted to find a way to discuss what I’d learned, to reach out to other members of my community. Now I’m a life skills facilitator, doing outreach activities, as well as peer counselling and referrals”, says Anthony.
“I’ve always known I was gay. I had lots of problems with my family when they found out. They show affection in bits and pieces, but they have traditional African values. They don’t see how MSM relates to masculinity. They think the man should be strong and bring up a family, father children. So MSM are inferior in the community. They don’t belong. This has an impact on your health and social wellbeing. You have low self-esteem and can’t discuss things”, he added.
Breaking down barriers
He recognises that gay men and other MSM in Kenya are up against an uphill struggle in the face of the criminalisation of sex between men, and the stigma that they face as a result. Men who have sex with men in Kenya often face discrimination in employment, lack of freedom of association, hate speech and arbitrary arrest.
“Arguing for rights for MSM can be tricky. But you can argue on health and access to health especially when it comes to HIV and STIs. We need to have more information, extra services on wellbeing, and somewhere to meet which is not branded as just for MSM but as a men’s wellness centre”, explains Anthony.
Anthony believes that Ishtar has been an enormous help to him personally, and he wants to extend its services to other MSM. “I am very out and confident. Ishtar has helped my confidence so much that I want to share that experience with other people. I want to increase the numbers involved so that we can all have more pride.”
Facts and stats
DFID has a three year Programme Partnership Arrangement with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance for an initial investment of £3,891,623 for 2011-12.
Through a global partnership of community-based organisations the International HIV/AIDS Alliance helps prevent the spread of HIV, meet the challenges of AIDS, and build communities that have brought HIV under control by preventing its transmission.
KANCO is a national network of over 1000 NGOs, community-based and faith-based organisations working on HIV/AIDS and TB. KANCO’s current MSM work includes HIV testing, outreach and behaviour change counselling, and training MSM as peer educators on HIV prevention and risk reduction.