With thirty-three long years of experience, Martha Koome is all set to become the first female Chief Justice of Kenya, a country where the issue of gender is particularly ambivalent. As a professional, she has played a crucial role in passing legislative and legal rights for Kenyan women.
President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Koome, who was a Court of Appeal judge. She is going to be replacing David Maraga as the country’s first female head of the judiciary, or any branch of the Kenyan government for that matter. Maraga had created history when the Supreme Court led by him annulled Kenyatta’s election when appeals were made questioning its conduction on grounds of ‘illegalities and irregularities.’
Koome, as one of 18 children, is a member of a polygamous family of subsistence farmers. She has represented political detainees like the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga over the course of her legal career. She founded and headed the Federation of Women Lawyers which is an organization dedicated to campaign and advocates for women’s rights and offer free legal aid to poor women. The organization played an important role in the drafting of the new constitution in 2010. It brought about several landmark decisions by outlawing discrimination against women and allowing children the space to derive their citizenship from maternal identity. It also limited the scope of conventional laws discriminating against women’s right to property.
Throughout her journey, she has repeatedly talked of her Christian faith and put forth her opinions, often at odds with the conservatism of the Church and society. In 2019, she also gave her opinion on a sensitive issue when she supported a ruling in favor of legalization of the LGBTQIA+ identity.
Being underfunded, several courts have halted hearings, and rows have prevented the appointment of a large number of judges. The judiciary also has a vast backlog and Koome and her fellow judges were lauded for their tenure in the Court of Appeal. Having female judges is important for the progress of any country and while there were no women judges in the country in 2010, Kenya has seen definite progress with women constituting 42% in High Courts and 40% in all other superior courts later.
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