BHESP is aware that sex workers, WSW, women who use drugs, and bar hostesses in Kenya are often subject to violence, both in their personal lives and at work. This violence is a manifestation of stigma and discrimination which is further demonstrated by the fact that these vulnerable groups typically receive less protection and support and instead face disapproval and discrimination. For instance, sex work occurs in complex environments dominated by power structures within family, community, workplace and the state. Within this context, sex workers experience human rights violations including physical violence, emotional abuse, rape, and extortion. It is with this in mind that BHESP projects are aimed at reducing the level of stigma and violence in sex workers, WSW and women using drugs lives and in empowering them to stand up for their rights. To achieve her vision, BHESP advocates for human rights of these women in various forums and arenas. BHESP Executive Director, Ms. Peninah Mwangi is the elected representative of the key population that includes sex workers, MSMs and drug users in the Global Fund Kenya Coordinating Mechanism (KCM).Peninah is also the chairperson of Africa Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). BHESP works on building and solidifying partnership with government and law enforcers. To this end BHESP participates in various government forums like Technical Working Groups (TWG) for NACC and NASCOP amongst others. Additionally, BHESP uses the following approaches:
BHESP trains sex workers, WSW, women using drugs and bar hostesses as paralegals, who act as a bridge between our members, law enforcers and the organization. These paralegals are influential amongst their peers and in their areas operation. They are also act as peer educators where they intervene on health issues and are in a capacity to do referrals on issues they cannot handle. They mobilize their peers in case of an event, presents the organization in court and police stations when need be and distribute condoms to their peers, bars and guest houses. They then make a report and submit it to the organization. From these reports the organization is able to identify the needs and the challenges these vulnerable women face in different parts of the country.
Consultative forums with law enforcers
Drawing on the experiences that the relationship between women using drugs, WSW, sex workers and law enforcers can generally be described in terms of harassment, violence, abuse, and repression with respect to the police, and by fear on the side of these vulnerable women, BHESP holds consultative forums and meetings with police officers and our members seeking to determine how best to cooperate with law enforcers and in addition also tackle the issue of physical abuse and harassment meted upon them. The forums have been important in ensuring that the law enforcers respect the rights of these women, particularly their right to live in dignity and not to be subjected to inhuman degrading treatment. As a strategy, the paralegals have continued to seek a working relationship with the law enforcement officers in seeking goodwill, and support and in ensuring that our members are treated with dignity and respect.
The paralegals have continued to act as the local resource persons in their respective target areas in providing legal advice to their peers. They have formed the link between the larger network of our members and other law enforcement officers including the police. They act as the first point of contact for our members who are seeking legal advice or assistance in relation to harassment and arbitrary arrest. In addition, they ensure cases of harassment against our members are promptly reported to the police or other relevant authorities. Because they are living and serving their peers, the paralegals/peer educators are able to observe circumstances and needs facing them and provide required support.
For emergency needs of our members who are in trouble and any other urgent relevant specific need, BHESP utilizes a front line SMS service which enables our women to use their phones wherever they are to a central line indicating their urgent needs and their present position. The messages are received, sieved and a response sent to our member in need with suggested solutions and information on where to access the commodities or services close to where she is. The response is also sent to the peer paralegal within that area.
BHESP collaborates with human rights organizations in ensuring our members get equal protection of the law like anyone else. In cases of arbitrary arrests and rights violation, sex workers, WSW, women using drugs and bar hostesses report to BHESP, and BHESP reports to human rights organisations/partners for legal aid. BHESP conduct sensitization meetings for our members on human rights and it is in these meetings that cases of human rights violations are reported. Consequently, BHESP provides free legal aid clinics, where sex workers, WSW, women using drugs and bar hostesses speak out on what they go through in the hands of the perpetrators. BHESP partners with human rights organisations in provision of legal representation to our members on criminal charges brought upon them. In particular some of the charges include; loitering, indecent dressing and verbal and physical abuse. BHESP also takes to court cases of violence including rape, physical violence, harassment by clients and pimps and murder cases. Currently two law enforcers are facing charges in court for the murder of sex workers in Nairobi.
Sex workers, WSW, women using drugs and bar hostesses’ rights have been increasingly violated in major cities and towns in Kenya. For instance, a good number of sex workers have been murdered. To address these security threats and other forms of violations or oppression facing our members in Kenya, BHESP organizes advocacy campaigns including a peaceful demonstrations on specific World moment days or events for instance during World AIDS day, December 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers etc. BHESP uses her membership networks to mobilize sex workers, WSW, women using drugs and bar hostesses from different parts of the country. Branded information and communication materials and online communication in social networks are used for mobilization and information dissemination in addition to hosting TV talk shows and FM radio sessions
To reach wider mass of sex workers, WSW, women using drugs, and bar hostesses and advance the rights of our members, BHESP has initiated and registered 87 of our members led community-based groups in 27 counties in Kenya. However, these groups are facing myriad of capacity issues that inhibit their abilities to advance the rights of our members in Kenya. To address these challenges, BHESP is continuously working on addressing these capacity gaps to strengthen these groups.