Victory against discrimination in Kenya
According to a July 10 article from the BBC, “A HIV-positive Kenyan woman has won $35,000 in a landmark ruling against her employer for unfair dismissal.” The implications of her suit are enormous: for the first time, Kenya’s High Court “ruled that it was unlawful to end employment on the grounds of a person’s HIV status.”
Jacqueline Adhiambo Ongur asserted that she was tested for HIV without her consent, and that her doctor told her employers about her HIV+ status even before she learned of it herself. She was then fired from the catering company where she had worked for eight years.
The court “declared that testing employees or prospective employees for HIV without consent constituted an invasion of privacy and was unlawful”and that “[d]isclosing an employee’s status to their employer without their consent was also unlawful.”
According to the BBC, “HIV/Aids activists have lauded the ruling saying it is a victory in the fight for the rights of people living with HIV/Aids.”
For more about the case, see “Sacked HIV-Positive Woman Wins Historic Court Battle,” an article from the Catholic Information Service for Africa. For more quotes and commentary, click below to keep reading.
From the BBC, “Kenyan wins landmark HIV ruling“:
Mrs Ongur says she filed the case to focus attention on the rights of people living with HIV/Aids.
She says she has endured hardship since she was sacked and has not been able to get another job.
Her lawyer said the case had been very challenging as Kenya’s constitution does not expressly prohibit discrimination on grounds of HIV.
“It’s a lesson and a message to employers that people living with HIV and Aids have got rights like any other person to work,” activist Inviolata Mbwavi told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.
“It will bring up many people who have suffered at the hands of their insensitive employers to come out and know that the law protects them.”
People living with the virus still face immense stigmatisation, Ms Mbwavi said.
From The Nation (Nairobi), “Bias in Workplace Illegal“:
[T]he spirit of the law is clear: Stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV and Aids are not only inhumane, they are totally out of sync with global trends. […]
Secondly, it has been proved that with easy access to anti-retrovirals, people living with the virus can lead productive lives for decades.
What then is the rationale for sacking a worker because he or she is HIV-positive?
My two cents: I think it’s great that the Kenyan courts made this decision. I also think Mrs. Ongur must be a very strong, courageous woman. Her willingness to make her story public will doubtless help many, many of her fellow citizens. Hopefully this landmark ruling will pave the way for further anti-discrimination movements, within Kenya and beyond.
For other posts dealing with issues of stigma and/or discrimination based on HIV-status, including issues of HIV/AIDS in the workplace, see this page.