Lakshita Kanhiya

From the shadows of discrimination, Lakshita Kanhiya emerged as a beacon of resilience and justice. Her early encounters with systemic bias fueled her passion to stand as a human rights advocate, dedicated to dismantling discrimination and violence against sexual and gender minorities. She turned adversity into an unyielding commitment for a more inclusive world.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Young Defender Lakshita Kanhiya almost missed the opportunity to pursue a university education because growing up in a patriarchal society, closed ones were advising her parents to make her look for job opportunities instead of investing in her tertiary education. Lakshita could not let that injustice happen to another girl or woman in her family, community, or elsewhere. She became the first woman graduate in her family in 2020. “Because of the discrimination I faced from closed ones, I decided to study human rights and fight against these patriarchal mentality who do not value educating women and investing in daughters”.

Initially interested in sports, the discrimination she faced pushed her to choose the pathway of human rights studies. Additionally, she grew up hearing the people she hold at heart often complaining about how it was complex to exercise freedom of expression and even join a trade union when working in the government sector. At a young age, she witnessed how corruption and bad governance has ruined the chances and opportunities of honest and hardworking citizens, including her siblings. Instead of complaining and being a victim, she decided she will be an actor of change.

At the university of Mauritius, where she thought she would see the change she wished to embody, she noticed that classrooms were not immune from the discrimination she faced. Freedom of expression and students’ rights were marginalised and barely given any space for consideration. With some students, she founded the Human Rights Society, a student organisation working against the protection and promotion of human rights in the academic field. Very quickly, her engagement, passion and excellence will get her notice. She was selected to be a Youth delegate in the newly created Youth Parliament. At the parliament, she sharply debated notably on environmental impact assessment, speaking about coastal degradation and producing policy papers. During her professional growth, she served at the National Human Rights Commission, working alongside the investigation department, as well as the Ministry of foreign affairs where she got to learn how diplomatic relations work.

Remarkably, her journey as a Manager and Advocate and researcher for sexual and gender minority rights have provided her opportunity to be part of the High-Level Multi Sectoral Committee on HIV and AIDS chaired by the Minister of Health and Wellness under the Prime Minister Office. She was also a member of the National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up under the chair of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade. More recently, she was selected to be part of the European Union Delegation (Mauritius) Youth Sounding Board as a human rights advocate focusing on sexual and gender minority rights. She has also been nominated as a Youth Champion to be part of the #OurVoiceOurFuture at the Diplomatic Service of the European Union (EEAS).

A young woman, Lakshita possesses an impressive academic background spanning human rights law, political science, mass communication and journalism, and international relations. Today, Lakshita Kanhiya is helping in advocacy and litigation across the African continent, on lessons learned from the Supreme Court of Mauritius on repealing section 250(1), decriminalising same-sex relationships. Committed to lifelong learning, she continues to research through a decolonial lens on the relationship between religion, gender and human rights. Her determination shines through the challenges she faces in her work. “As a woman, you are told to lower your voice and restrict the topics, but I will always speak out for what matters – domestic violence and gender equality – because patriarchal mindset who like to oppress others but claim to be the victim, should no longer have their place in this contemporary society”. Noteworthy, being an ally to the sexual and gender minority community, she knows that her commitment is sometimes questioned, but her dedication is not defined by her identity. She stands by their side, striving for a more inclusive world, regardless of criticism or accusations, because she believes in the power of unity and change.

On a continent where same-sex relationships are criminalised in most African countries and where countries like Uganda have harshened the legislation against sexual and gender minorities, young people like Lakshita Kanhiya are rare models of commitments and excellence. As a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Young Defender, Lakshita exemplifies youth who continue to speak truth to power.