American Jewish World Service (AJWS) donors visited Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) and commended the organization for working tirelessly towards ensuring sex workers have access to health care and are protected from violence, sexual abuse, and discrimination.
Led by AJWS Vice President for Development Margo Bloom, the 16-member team, said they were happy to learn how their commitment is making an impact in the lives of female sex workers in Kenya.
Bloom said that the visit has provided the team with an opportunity to learn about the challenges and successes BHESP is experiencing.
“AJWS has a diverse community of supporters who believe that nobody should live in poverty or be discriminated against based on his or her race, religion, ethnicity or identity,” Bloom noted.
BHESP Executive Director Peninah Mwangi explained to the team that before the AJWS advocacy funding, sex workers were regular victims of client assaults, police brutality, and illegal arrests.
“Sex workers frequently faced severe conditions and outright abuse. Police were arresting sex workers on a daily basis accusing them of loitering forcing them to pay bribes,” she reckoned.
Thanks to the support from AJWS, Mwangi said BHESP has managed to stop violence against sex workers and challenged the rampant discrimination that sex workers face.
“Whenever a sex worker is arrested, we represent them in court and the majority of the cases have been overruled. Now the police fear to arrest the sex workers as a result of our advocacy interventions,” she said amid loud clapping from the team.
While taking the team through BHESP’s structural interventions, BHESP Legal Officer Zosphine Mtende said in 2017 the organization reported 918 cases and managed to successfully address 901 cases through alternative dispute resolution mechanism and referrals.
She, however, noted that lack of political goodwill, unsupportive policies and inadequate funding has negatively impacted the efforts to stop violence against sex workers.
“We need more funding to effectively stop abuse against sex workers by supporting sex workers to educate each other about their rights and challenge the widespread abuses that sex workers face,” she concluded.