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Advocates of keswa

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John Mathenge, the founder of the only organisation that caters to male sex workers and Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM) who are living positively, HOYMAS and Phelister Abdalla  the National Coordinator of the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) has been given international accolade by the Global Network of Sex Workers Project.

The NSWP recognized John for his efforts for sex workers rights when they presented him with the Global Youth Activist on Sexworkers at the ongoing Sex Workers Freedom Festival in Kolkata, India.

Mathenge is heading the Kenyan delegation at the festival after the US denied them Visas – as well as other sex workers from over 40 countries – to attend the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC.

Mathenge has been in the forefront of advocating for the rights of sex workers in Kenya for years now. A sex worker himself, John has been particularly passionate about sex work activism appearing in media and organising protests to create awareness.


In an interview with Behind the Mask’s correspondent, Melissa Wainaina, Mathenge said he had been living positively for close to 10 years and had pioneered a program to reach out to young persons selling sex.

‘I am currently working on UNFPA on a programme dealing with people aged under 18 years selling sex. The purpose is to implement a life skills program for these young persons through outreach and education workshops.’

“We are the people. We are the problem and we are the solution. No one can make decisions for us. They’ll never make decisions for us anymore. Sex work is work and sex workers’ rights are human rights. As Obama joined the government [he promised change]. Where is the change? Why are they still discriminating sex workers? They need to repeal the Anti-Prostitution Pledge for us to have freedom, freedom to work and right to health,” Mathenge told the packed meeting hall at the sex workers freedom festival.