Kenyan judge Martha Koome has been appointed as the first woman chief justice – the head of the Supreme Court – in the East African country.
The 61-year-old outshone nine other candidates, including two women, to be appointed by president Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday May 19.
Koome, a married mother of three, has more than 33 years of legal experience, studying law at the University of Nairobi and earning her Masters in Public International Law from the University of London.
After founding her own private law firm, she rose to fame for her defence of human rights, representing political detainees who protested against the regime of former President Daniel Arap Moi in the 1980s and 90s, according to Reuters.
A women’s and human rights activist, she co-founded and chaired the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), which campaigns for women’s rights and provides pro-bono representation for victims of gender and sexual violence.
Koome is also known for her contribution to the country’s landmark 2010 constitution, being one of the lawyers who helped to repeal a section that made Kenya a one-country state and writing the rights of women and children into the constitution.
The Bill of Rights helped to end customary practices such as child marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) by outlawing discrimination against women, allowing children to derive citizenship from their mothers and limiting discriminatory customary laws on women’s property rights, according to Reuters.
In 2019, she supported a ruling at the Court of Appeal that said identifying as gay is not illegal. Gay sex is illegal in Kenya and punishable by 14 years in jail.
“You cannot discriminate against a person because you are assuming they will commit an offence,” she said at her interview for the role of chief justice, which was broadcast live on television.
Last year, Koome was listed as a runner-up for the United Nation’s Kenya Person of the Year Award “for her advocacy of the rights of children in the justice system,” according to the BBC.