LGBTQI+ Norm Change in Kenya

Building a Norm Change Coalition in Kenya

AJWS has funded nearly 20 organizations so far that are doing norm-change policy and service work in Kenya and creating a roadmap to advance change across the country. Following our feminist approach, most of these organizations are led by women, trans, and gender non-conforming activists.

AJWS assembled a broad coalition of partners to carry out a massive research and mapping project to better understand prevailing social norms and attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people in Kenya. In February 2021, AJWS and our grantee partner Public Health Innovations (PHI) published the results of this research, which included qualitative interviews with 32 key thought leaders from across Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, Uasin-Gishu, Wajir, Isiolo, Bungoma and Kilifi counties.

AJWS is now working closely with our partners to put the research recommendations into action across Kenya and advance equity for LGBTQI+ people throughout society.

Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik

A Collaborative Roadmap to Justice

Since 2018, AJWS has coordinated nine convenings of our norm change coalition that were crucial to grounding our initiative in the Kenyan LGBTQI+ movement, and aligning it with the movement’s own needs and vision. These convenings were the first time since 2012 that activists from across the LGBTQI+ movement came together to collaborate on meaningful change. Together, we have developed a roadmap that will inform the strategies of AJWS, our grantee partners, and the wider movement. This roadmap has identified seven key areas of change for activists, organizations, communities and funders to focus on:

  • Engaging  with universities  to develop inclusive curricula that address  sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression  (SOGIE) rights.  
  • Filing cases in the courts  to overturn  the penal code criminalizing homosexuality, and  training young law students and lawyers to become stronger advocates for LGBTQI+ rights.
  • Expanding policies in the  health sector  to include trans people, so they can access health services with dignity and respect. 
  • Engaging key players in Kenya’s media and the arts to make the industries more inclusive of LGBTQI+ experiences and generate more widespread cultural acceptance.  
  • Identifying and engaging with progressive political leaders  who can become champions of LGBTQI+ rights within Parliament.  
  • Identifying and coaching religious leaders  to confront homophobia and champion LGBTQI+ rights. 
  • Counseling families to confront their biases and to accept their loved ones and the wider LGBTQI+ community.   

Making Progress on Changing Norms and Lives

Since creating the roadmap and publishing this research, AJWS and our partners have sought meaningful opportunities to share these insights with other organizations and the wider LGBTQI+ movement in Kenya. Many organizations view the roadmap as truly reflective of the needs and aspirations of the LGBTQI+ community—and they have incorporated it into their core strategies to promote awareness and respect for LGBTQI+ people.

As a result, our partners and other civil society organizations have achieved tangible change in their communities. They have conducted trainings and outreach to engage a wide swath of society—including political and religious leaders, law enforcement, educators and students, public health officials, family members of LGBTQI+ people, perpetrators of violence, and more—helping change the hearts and minds of these individuals so they can facilitate shifts in the greater society.

The collective norm change efforts of AJWS and our grantee partners have also shifted the practices and policies of institutions like state agencies, media, and health care. By enacting a multi-leveled approach that targets individuals, communities, and institutions to shift their practices and attitudes, our grantee partners are catalyzing sustained and systemic change.

Finally, on the global stage, AJWS has started to leverage our network of peer funders to increase investments in norm change work and influence the philanthropic landscape to recognize how norm change initiatives are critical to advancing the rights of LGBTQI+ people—not only in Kenya but around the world.