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Georgina Adhiambo: Passionate defender of lesbian, bisexual and queer rights in rural Kenya

Georgina Adhiambo is the Executive Director of Voices of Women in Western Kenya – a community-based organization focused on empowering and protecting the rights of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in rural areas across Kenya. In order to strengthen her efforts to fight for these rights, Georgina participated in the first edition of Global Rights Connection – a new online human rights training program offered by Equitas – to develop skills in human rights education approaches and tools for disseminating within her organization.

Georgina strives to elevate the voices of lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, especially in rural communities. This was important for Georgina to distinguish as higher levels of stigmatization and intolerance are generally experienced in rural areas, especially against women, reflecting overlapping layers of discrimination. This motivated Georgina to help found Voices of Women in Western Kenya (VOWWEK) in 2012, after the passing of the new Kenyan Constitution in 2010 which upheld discriminatory acts targeting LGBTQI+ individuals. For instance, same-sex marriage was explicitly banned under this Constitution. Evidently, in an environment that is often hostile to sexual and gender diversity, the work of human rights defenders like Georgina, who advocates and creates safe spaces for LBQ women, is crucial.  

A great part of Georgina and her organization’s work is to challenge common cultural norms and understandings of gender expression, identity, and roles that impact the livelihoods of LGBTQI+ people in rural communities. Voices of Women serves approximately 50 women living in rural communities in Western Kenya. The work of the organization is multi-faceted, supporting individuals in terms of their health, economic, and social rights. For instance, the organization provides comprehensive healthcare coverage that is safe from discrimination so that each person can safely receive sexual health checks, mental health counseling, and general health check-ups. They also provide a socio-economic mentorship program to support people in finding internship programs and training to establish financial stability to provide for themselves and their respective families. Additionally, the organization focuses on public participation as members of the organization work alongside various stakeholders and community members to better amplify the voices of rural LBQ women and destigmatize their rights across Kenya.  

By participating in Global Rights Connection, Georgina aspires to continue expanding her human rights education knowledge and to develop further advocacy strategies to support her team members at the volunteer-based organization and the communities she’s working with. Additionally, Georgina seeks to apply what she has learned from her fellow human rights defenders in the program.  

“With Global Rights Connection, I will bring the lessons we learnt – advocacy through human rights education, tools on working with the government, how to ensure and use approaches and different strategies to bring on shareholders to ensure that when we talk about human rights, it’s universal!”

According to Georgina, a significant example of VOWWEK’s contribution to the advancement of LGBTQI+  rights took place in Kisumu County, where Georgina and team members assisted in drafting and facilitating a County Trade Policy that specifically included an act to recognize inclusivity and non-discrimination of LGBTQI+ persons. Once this bill was enacted, the county of Kisumu held entrepreneurial training sessions for women that were inclusive and non-discriminatory, and which sought to enhance the economic capacity of LBQ women in rural areas.  

Georgina and VOWWEK have worked hard to make political progress in support of LGBTQI+ rights. Georgina intends to continue to engage with political leaders across Kenya, especially during the upcoming months as the federal elections are set to take place in the summer of 2022. In order to accomplish this, Georgina has designed her Individual Plan – a component of the Global Rights Connection program which involves an action plan incorporating techniques and approaches learned throughout the course to implement through each participant’s respective organizations. Georgina’s plan strategically focuses on these leaders to promote a fair election that also includes awareness around the unjust criminalization of and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya.   

“We will create partnerships to bring on board partners who want to change [their practices], in addition to ensuring that through a network, we have shareholders whose values have changed through the training we will provide to demystify the notion of same-sex relationships and the fact that sexuality shouldn’t hinder human rights”

Georgina has already begun connecting with various organizational partners across Kenya who share the same values that she and her organization continue to fight for. She will draw upon her training in Global Rights Connection to continue educating others about human rights and amplifying the voices of lesbian, bisexual, and queer individuals in Kenya for their equal rights and opportunities.