On a mission to promote social and cultural rights

Judith Oloo

Dr Judith Oloo, advocate of the High Court and CEO,  East African Centre for Human Rights.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • We have a child protection project named Watoto Wetu where we advocate for the rights of women and girls. 

  • We also engage lawmakers to legislate further on laws that would provide water-tight protection of girls.

For how long have you been an advocate and what inspires you about the industry?

I have been an advocate for the last 10 years. I wanted to be a doctor but I couldn’t handle the sight of blood, so I chose a different way of helping marginalised and vulnerable people around me – law. It has been fulfilling.

You are currently the CEO of EACHRights, what does your job entail?

I am the brand ambassador and the face of the organisation, representing it in high-level meetings. I engage donors, potential funders and other stakeholders on behalf of the organisation. I am also the overall manager, overseeing operations and all resources including the workforce. At the Board of Directors’ level, I play the role of the company secretary.

How long have you held the position?

Three years. The organisation has experienced tremendous growth under my leadership. With the support of my staff and the guidance of the EACHRights Board of Directors, I strive to make the organisation better by the day.

How was the journey to where you are?

It did not happen in one day. Upon returning from India with a Master of Laws degree, I got started by doing humble jobs. With time, I got better and opportunities came knocking. Not to forget the fact that I sacrificed so much time, effort and funds to obtain my doctorate.

Previously, I have worked at Catholic University as a lecturer at the School of Law, also heading the private law department, and more recently at that JKUAT School of Law, heading the Public Law Department.My track record in leadership is good. I believe that consistency and focus go a long way.

Who are your mentors?

In my early life,  my mentor was my dear mother, the late Mary Jobita Oloo. She drummed into me the mantra that I could be anything I wanted to if I put my mind and the requisite effort to it. She believed that even the sky was not my limit, and this is how I still see myself today. Everything is mine if I want it and if I put in the work. God bless your soul mama. My dad and friend, Hon Willian Oloo Otula, was also instrumental. He was a disciplinarian. I am glad I followed his advice. 

Recently, I have picked role models along my career – Christine Alai of EACHRights and Prof Jack Mwimali of JKUAT Law, who are both my seniors and successful advocates. I am also close to my twin brother, Eddie Oloo – he pushes me to be the best I can. 

What does the organisation that you represent do in the region? Which areas does it cover?

The East African Centre for Human Rights (also known as EACHRights) was established in May 2010 to undertake human rights work in a regional context. The regional NGO seeks to initiate and undertake programmes that promote, protect, and enhance economic, social, and cultural rights in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for vulnerable and marginalised groups.

We have a child protection project named Watoto Wetu where we advocate for the rights of women and girls. Many are aware of harmful cultural practices in Kenya such as female genital mutilation and early marriages, which have continued to hamper the progress of girls. 

We advocate for the rights of these children as well as engage lawmakers to legislate further on laws that would provide water-tight protection of girls. We also advocate for school re-entry for young girls who have dropped out due to teenage pregnancy. 

Our other project is Éducation support’ , which advocates for the right to education for all children in the region without discrimination. In particular, we are concerned with the quality, accessibility and affordability of education for children in urban marginalised communities.

You have just been nominated for two awards –  the Civil Society Lawyer of the Year (2021) and Law Lecturer of the Year (2021). How do you feel?

Elated! I thank all my former students for this nomination. 

I feel appreciated knowing that someone somewhere is pleased with my work. I am motivated by the mere fact of nomination alone. I really hope that I get awarded.

You have just returned to Kenya from Paris where you went for a leadership training programme, and you will head to Senegal next year in February, do you still find time to relax?

Yes, I do. I try and make time to relax. When I am not working, I spend time with my family and friends. I love travelling. My weekends are occupied with family events, birthdays, baby showers, name it. I also enjoy shopping. I am very intentional about who I spend time with.

What is your ideal day like?

I am a morning bird. I have so much energy in the morning so I usually get my hardest tasks done early in the day.  I wake up  at 5am even when I am on leave. By the time everyone else gets up and going, I have covered so much ground. This helps me  manage my itinerary.

What principles do you stand for?

I am a proud alumnus of Asumbi Girls, and therefore integrity (was our motto) comes to me naturally. I do everything above board and that helps me to have peace of mind. I never have had to look behind my shoulders because the decisions I make are based on integrity. And when I am not sure, I ask.

I believe that asking for direction or guidance when I am not sure is not a weakness, and as such, it does not take away anything from me. I also believe in justice and fairness, and I try to live up to this standard so much so that my siblings call me Lady Justice! I am very compassionate; I step out of myself to feel other peoples’ pain. I believe that a little bit of kindness makes the world a better place.

What advice would you give to young people aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

I would encourage them to put in the work that goes into the making of people like me. Focus is key as well. There is so much that is calling for young people’s attention, but how much of it is important? Being choosy with how and who you spend your time is important too.

What drives you?

Impacting lives. The work I do at EACHRights enables me to impact the lives of young girls and boys for the better. Rescuing under-age girls from illegal marriages and FGM, advocating for teenage mothers to be admitted back into schools and influencing lawmakers to prioritise rights of children as they legislate, and generally creating awareness about issues affecting children and their rights is important work worthy of waking up for, every day.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Being a laureate of the French African Young Leadership program (2021) and having spearheaded several maiden projects at EACHRights including developing organisational policies, the strategic plan and the annual report.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The fact that I am given a canvas on which I paint anything I want, with minimum supervision. In my position as the CEO, I get to make big decisions.

What legacy do you wish to leave behind?

Each and every child in Kenya to be able to access the most basic needs such as quality education and health care since this remains a farfetched dream for many families.