Why Obama Should Address Human Rights in Kenya

President Obama will make his historic visit to Kenya this weekend—his first trip to his father’s homeland as president. 

As Kenya’s people eagerly anticipate his homecoming, AJWS’s Kenyan grantees are urging President Obama to address the critical human rights issues affecting marginalized communities in Kenyaincluding women, girls, LGBT people, and Kenya’s rural populations. Since 2004, AJWS has supported grassroots organizations in Kenya that are defending communities’ access to land, water and other natural resources; and helping end violence and discrimination against Kenyan women, girls and LGBT people.

Here’s what a few of the organizations we support in Kenya have to say about the President’s visit:

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AJWS grantee Fortress of Hope Africa uses dance to teach adolescent girls to protect themselves from sexual violence.


Two AJWS grantees, Fortress of Hope Africa and Young Women’s Leadership Institute, wrote a joint letter with 13 other Kenyan NGOs to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Below is an excerpt from their letter:

As leaders of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations based in Kenya, we write to extend our warmest greetings in advance of your upcoming visit to Kenya; it is an extreme honour to have you visit our country. Mrs. Obama, we hope that you will also be able to come to Kenya so that you and President Obama can make the most of an important opportunity to address our shared concerns as global citizens. In particular, we hope during your visit you will meet with women leaders and address the status of women in Kenya including their health and rights:

1) Sexual and reproductive health and rights of Kenyan women and girls

2) Reparations for women and girls who survive sexual violence and rape

3) Economic empowerment for women and girls

We understand your visit to Kenya will focus on accelerating economic growth and strengthening democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to safe abortion, are central to African women’s and girls’ economic empowerment and to their full and equal participation in African democracies. We urge you to prioritize the health and rights of women and girls as you continue your efforts to promote democracy and development in Kenya.

members of AJWS grantee Young Women’s Leadership Institute


from Young Women’s Leadership Institute, Kenya:

Obama should speak about human rights and why all nations and Kenya should respect them. He should remind Kenyans that as a nation we have ratified CEDAW, DEVAW and have a progressive constitution that respects the rights of all people despite their gender, sexual orientation, color or ethnicity. 

from Upper Rift Minorities, Kenya:

As an organization and as a representative of LGBTI community in northern Kenya, we hope that Obama will address LGBTI issues without fear. We kindly ask Obama to address the relationship between human rights and economic empowerment, and the effects of marginalization and discrimination towards LGBTI people in Kenya. Welcome home and feel free to speak as all Kenyans have a freedom of speech….you are a Kenyan too!

from Endorois Welfare Council (EWC), Kenya

Obama should firmly ask the Kenyan government to show respect for international and regional human rights resolutions that have been passed, especially concerning issues of minority rights, including the right to land and natural resources for indigenous communities including the Endorois and Ogiek communities.

from Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya

During Obama’s engagement with the Kenyan government, we urge Obama to encourage the government of Kenya to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169. This will help reinforce the rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples as espoused in Kenya’s 2010 constitution. This will also help safeguard these communities’ lands and environments, livelihoods and economies and cultures that are threatened through massive extractive activities such as oil, natural gas, geothermal, wind and solar energy, and mega development projects that target indigenous peoples’ territories in the absence of community land laws. This is to ensure that public policies for combating poverty are in accordance with the rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and that [communities] are not negatively affected by commitments that might be undertaken in the context of trade and investment agreements.

Learn more about AJWS’s work in Kenya and watch the video below of Essy, a Kenyan activist supported by AJWS, who is changing hearts and minds as she fights for the rights of LGBT people in Kenya.