Strengthening Trans and Intersex Rights in East Africa
The East Africa Trans Health & Advocacy Network – EATHAN – works to strengthen the rights of trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming people in East Africa and is one of RFSL's international partners. We currently support a project aimed at strengthening EATHAN’s capacity to operate in the region.
The lack of respect for fundamental rights of LGBTQI people is widespread in East Africa. Organisations that work with trans and intersex rights are often particularly vulnerable to the difficulties of finding funding opportunities and to keep operations going.
“Being an intersex or trans person in East Africa is difficult. There is hardly any understanding of these issues. Many people assume that transgender people are homosexual and confuse gender identity and sexuality,” said Barbra Wangare, Executive Director at EATHAN.
EATHAN is based in Nairobi, Kenya, but also operates in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The situation for trans and intersex people differs between countries. While transgender people in Kenya, for example, have been given the right in court to change their first name to one that matches their gender identity, the situation in other countries is much worse.
“Kenya has come further than other countries in East Africa. Among other things, transgender people have been public in the media, and younger intersex and transgender people have found it easier to access various forms of public services,” said Barbra Wangare.
In Uganda however, the situation continues to be very challenging. In addition to banning same-sex acts, the country recently criminalised all forms of anal sex. This is one of many laws that make life difficult for LGBTQI people in the country. In Tanzania, the state recently decided to close down HIV clinics, which has affected the entire LGBTQI community. During the pandemic, the situation has deteriorated further and access to HIV care and hormone treatment has decreased while processes of obtaining correct ID documents in Kenya have been delayed. Many in the community have lost their jobs and housing. Additionally, the risk of being subjected to violence and arbitrary arrests continues to be an issue for many LGBTQI people in the region.
EATHAN is a network organisation that consists of several local and national trans and intersex organisations. The key aim is to strengthen the trans and intersex community and make it easier for them to stand up for their own rights. EATHAN also conducts its own political advocacy work at national, regional, and continental levels and is also active internationally, for example in UN contexts.
“We came up with the concept of a regional network organisation several years ago. Initially, the idea was to form a Pan-African organisation but this was not possible because of issues with funding. Then, during a conference a few years ago where trans and intersex activists from all over the continent met, we came to the conclusion that it is better to start with a regional organisation. EATHAN was founded a year later in July 2016,” said Barbra Wangare.
RFSL has collaborated with EATHAN in a capacity-building project since 2018. Through the project, EATHAN has not only been able to improve its internal structure with administrative solutions and staff, but has also acquired its own office. The project is funded via ForumCiv and funds raised by RFSL.
“Before we started the project, we struggled with funding. Small organisations generally find it more difficult to obtain financial support if they cannot show that they have succeeded in receiving project grants before. Through this project, we have been able to show that we are reliable and we will therefore be able to find additional funding opportunities in the future. A big step forward was when we organised the first conference for trans activists. We are no longer in the margins,” said Barbra Wangare.
Although EATHAN has come a long way since 2016, some challenges remain and funding continues to be a pressing issue.
“It is easier for organisations that work with gay, lesbian and bisexual rights. They are generally run by people with higher education and it is therefore easier for them to receive project grants. Trans organisations often struggle because of the fact that trans people usually have less access to higher education. Therefore, our staff does not have the same resources and this makes it difficult for us to create good relationships with donors,” said Barbra Wangare.
Barbra would like to extend a thank you to RFSL’s donors and members.
“Your contributions make a huge difference for groups that lack privileges and funding. Through this project, we have been able to help trans and intersex people to be able to fight for themselves and their rights”.