The Story of Change: IshtarMSM

By | October 20, 2019


In the beautiful country of Kenya, things are changing every day From its sprawling cities, to its picturesque countryside Kenya is home to nearly 50 million people Including the advocates and activists at IshtarMSM Men who have sex with men and LGBTI people are still fighting for their basic human rights in the country Same-sex sexual behavior is still criminalized and many Kenyan men still face stigma and discrimination for who they are In response to the many injustices against men who have sex with men in the country, Peter Njane had something to say [Peter]
IshtarMSM is a community-based organization that works with men who have sex with men based in Nairobi Started in 1997, whereby we saw the need for community and support So what we did the community was coming together, supporting each other as male sex workers at that time supporting each other This grassroots community-led organization’s goal was to reduce stigma and discrimination by raising awareness about the issues facing men who have sex with men in the country [Jeffrey]
I joined Ishtar in 2004 as a peer educator Our work mainly was to mobilize our community members to go for testing So Ishtar came on board as a mobilizing organization Because we realized most of our members were suffering from HIV or contracting HIV So we felt like it was important for them to get tested Just this year, over 4000 people have received services at Ishtar’s clinic in Nairobi And their staff has provided services and information to countless more people in Kenya [Brian]
Kenya has laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between two adults The states distanced themselves from protecting people from all forms of stigma and discrimination as a result of this law [Peter]
We were all optimistic that this was a time for change for LGBTI rights in our country No matter what happens legally, we will never stop advocating for the rights and health of our community Legal and systemic barriers inhibit men from accessing resources and information about their sexual health [Charles]
I’ve been coming to Ishtar for about five years It is different in terms of the service delivery The healthcare providers, they are friendly They know what to tell you and how to tell you Though Ishtar started working primarily by working directly with men who have sex with men in the country They realized that larger issues like criminalization were some of the biggest barriers for their community to accessing care [Jeffrey]
Because of the criminalization, very few people come out to access services Commodities like condoms and lubricants are things we still have a challenge on Issues around violence that also come on board [Peter]
We have been advocating for the community’s rights to access care and treatment Including working to lobby policy, government officials and creating research initiatives to create data to drive advocacy and empower community with resources that expand our services Ishtar’s work has been key to breaking stigma and sensitizing healthcare providers to the needs of men who have sex with men in the country [Peter]
Ishtar began its partnership with MPact with support from Bridging the Gaps I think in the year 2012 We just started as a three-staff organization and through the technical and financial support from MPact and BTG Ishtar now has a staff of more than 30 activists and 90 peers and volunteers working on service delivery, community development, advocacy, and research In spite of the odds, Ishtar has been able to continue its work for over two decades Its story of survival is proof that community-led and peer organized programs work [Peter]
The odds were against our formation The odds were against our continuation So it is the passion that we have for our community that we have been able to continue to give services to our people Our staff have that commitment and that passion to give services to our members The new Kenyan constitution included an article that protects citizens from discrimination on any grounds Staff at Ishtar are hopeful that this will soon extend to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities [Peter]
The hardships we have faced as an organization has only renewed our commitment to build our organization’s resilience advocating for rights locally, and providing targeted technical support through the region Ishtar’s story and model of sustainability is proof that local initiatives can inspire regional change

3 thoughts on “The Story of Change: IshtarMSM

  1. Audrey Mbugua Post author

    Great work IshtarMSM. All life is sacred. All Kenyans deserve quality health care and especially sexual and reproductive health care.

    Reply
  2. MIKE MURITHI Post author

    Inspiring. A group of people out there making a change in MSMs lives. Kudos!

    Reply

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