Esther is a human rights defender working for Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved (PEMA Kenya), an LGBT organization based in Mombasa, Kenya. Through capacity building and advocacy on social, health, legal and economic issues, PEMA's mission is to promote harmony by empowering the community to respect the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
Esther began her advocacy while still in Nairobi more than six years ago, and she became active in defending the rights of gender and sexual minorities in 2009 when she moved from Nairobi to Mombasa. She joined PEMA Kenya as a member and was soon appointed as the organization's Programs Coordinator. She also sits on the board of the Gays and Lesbians Coalition of Kenya, and in 2013 she spoke at the International Human Rights Funders conference in San Francisco, on a panel sponsored by AJWS.
Esther has steered PEMA Kenya to start dialogue with the police and religious leaders on the human rights of gender and sexual minorities, two important projects that AJWS proudly supports:
Turning police into true protectors
PEMA conducts trainings to encourage police officers to respect LGBTI people as human beings with the right to be protected under the law. It also educates them about the unique dangers that this population faces.
PEMA saw results very quickly after one session, when an officer brought a young gay man to the PEMA office after he had been attacked by an armed group. Formerly, this officer said, he would have taken the victim and his assailants to the police station, where the gay man would have likely faced further abuse. After the training the officer understood that the police report needed to be filed in a safe place and that LGBTI people need greater protections than the precinct currently offers them. The police commissioner for PEMA Kenya’s Coast province was so impressed with the training that he has invited PEMA to train 3,000 incoming officers in 2013.
Stopping persecution from the pulpit
In their work with clergy, PEMA’s advocates provide homophobic leaders with a human connection to an LGBTI person. After they build a relationship with a minister or imam, members of the PEMA community reveal their sexual orientation and make the case for LGBTI rights. As a result of these efforts, PEMA reports that it has not only seen a decrease in hate speech from the pulpit, but that, in some cases, religious leaders have begun to preach tolerance and respect.