On February 29, 2024, lawyers in Kenya will vote for the 51st President of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK). Is Kenya ready for another woman to lead the bar? Will this LSK election break the cycle of women as Deputy Chairpersons of the LSK, just as Chief Justice Martha Koome’s appointment broke the cycle of women as Deputy Chief Justices? Will Kenya get it right this time with the election of a woman leader? For this election, the three women in the race are: Faith Odhiambo Mony, Carolyne Kamende Daudi and Harriet Njoki Mboce, HSC.
In 2001, Ambassador Raychelle Omamo made history with her election as the first woman president of the LSK since its inception in 1949. Since then, three women have held the Vice Presidency, setting in motion the deputization syndrome of women in leadership. In 2003, Lucy Kambuni was elected as Vice Chair, and it would be over 15 years before the election of Carolyne Kamende Daudi as Vice Chair in 2020. In 2022, Faith Odhiambo Mony became the third woman Vice Chair.
Data from the LSK in 2022 indicates that women comprised 44.6% of women lawyers in Kenya, signaling a gradual shift towards gender parity in the descriptive and symbolic representation of women at the Kenyan Bar.
While the number of women lawyers in Kenya has grown steadily in the last decade, the 2023 IAWL report on Women in Law and Leadership in Kenya reported that women still face challenges in accessing leadership positions. These challenges include persisting gender bias and stereotypes that privilege male leadership styles and question women’s capabilities as leaders. Additionally, some women’s apathy in supporting other women contributes to the limited chances for women’s rise into top leadership positions.
Women’s representation in leadership is essential for diversity in thought leadership, the legitimacy of public institutions, and the promotion of democratic ideals of equity, equality, and inclusion. In Kenya, women have made gains in breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. The appointment of Justice Martha Koome as the first woman Chief Justice signals that there are opportunities for women to rise into leadership positions. However, the question remains, is the LSK ready for a woman chairperson?
In an earlier article written for The Conversation, I argued that:
[w]omen lawyers and women’s rights advocates should not have to make “a case” for women’s representation in leadership positions. There is no shortage of qualified women in the legal profession. What is needed is a shift in systems, institutional practices, norms and perceptions to accommodate more women in leadership positions.
With the February 29, 2024 election just around the corner, will Kenyan lawyers break the cycle of leadership inequity and elect another woman to lead the LSK? Equal representation of women in leadership is not merely a symbolic gesture that gender equality is the norm. Equal representation of women in leadership demonstrates that society values the equal participation of women in decision-making. Women in Kenya have fought for freedom from colonial power. Women’s rights activists have fought in the trenches to guarantee constitutional freedoms and rights. Kenyan women have proven that they can lead and make important contributions to the legal profession, justice and the rule of law.
As lawyers vote on February 29, 2024, the world will be watching to see if Kenya has indeed normalized the spirit of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya and its provision requiring gender equality in decision-making in public office. With the Kenyan legal profession boasting over 44% of women lawyers, it is time for another woman to lead the LSK. It is time for change. It is time to show that women can and should be at the helm of leadership.
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