J. Jarpa Dawuni, Ph.D.
Executive Director, IAWL
The recent confirmation and swearing in of Justice Martha Karambu Koome as the first woman Chief Justice of Kenya comes with much joy and pride for many in Kenya, across Africa, and the world. For some, it comes as a bit too late when considered in the light of the fact that it has been over forty years when Kenya's first woman judge, Justice Effie Owuor joined the Kenyan judiciary. For others, the news brings with it a reawakening of the agency of Kenyan women as leaders who fought against colonial oppression in the Mau Mau movement, and also stood in opposition to authoritarian rule during the dark days of the Moi regime.
While Kenya put a woman— Justice Joyce Aluoch on the International Criminal Court before putting a woman as the head of the judiciary, the recent appointment of the first woman Chief Justice is still a commendable development. Women judges have in the past tried for the position, but have had no luck. What factors explain the recent outcome? In an earlier article, we documented the rise of women chief justices across Africa, and among our explanatory variables, we discussed the role of gatekeepers, where we concluded that;
Where the gatekeepers are committed to the application of the merit principle without gender bias, and adhere to the constitutional requirements in evaluating female candidates, we see a positive outcome for women chief justices and presidents of courts. (p.60).
The recent addition of Justice Koome to the list of African women Chief Justices is a development worth celebrating, but it should not be the end in the fight for gender equity across the judiciary and other institutions. The challenges ahead are numerous and she will have to operate within an institutional context that remains largely patriarchal, despite the fact that women make up over 40% of the judiciary.
Our best wishes to the new Chief Justice, and may women continue to shatter the proverbial glass ceilings where ever they find them!