What you need to know:
- In private practice, women advocates only make up 40 per cent of partners (senior management) in the 16 top law firms.
- The Office of the Attorney General (AG), which is the biggest law firm in the country, has never had a woman at the helm since Independence.
Women remain stagnant in low ranks of private and public legal practice in Kenya despite achieving parity with men, a study has revealed.
The Institute for African Women in Law (IAWL), a Pan-African organisation dedicated to supporting women in law, launched a report on ‘Women in Law and Leadership in Kenya’ on Tuesday that focused on their representation in leadership at the bar (people qualified to practise).
The study found that in private practice, female advocates only make up 40 per cent of partners (senior management) in the 16 top law firms. The majority of the ‘working class’ (associates) in law firms are women at more than 90 per cent.
The situation is quite similar in the public sector, where more women than men are in lower cadres. The Office of the Attorney General (AG), which is the biggest law firm in the country, has never had a woman at the helm since Independence.
“The principal assistant to the AG is the Solicitor General, who is also a political appointee of the President, and since Independence, no woman has ever held the position. Male presidents have tended to appoint their fellow men to leadership positions such as the AG.
"The tendency of people to promote or appoint people who are like them is not far-fetched. Prior research shows that men tend to hire fellow men in law firms even when hiring processes have been systemised to minimise subjective promotion practices,” reads the report.
Also, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), which is key to women victims’ access to justice, has never had a female occupant. The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) was also flagged for predominantly having male leaders.
“The LSK chair and vice chair positions have been occupied by men from 1949 until 2001 when Raychelle Omamo became the first female chair. In 2003, Lucy Kambuni became the first vice chair and 15 years later, Caroline Kamande became vice chair in 2020. As of 2022, the third woman, Faith Moni, was the vice chair,” reads the report.
According to a statement released by IAWL Executive Director Jarpa Dawuni, the report examined women’s access to positions of leadership in the legal profession, reviewing their retention and barriers that lead to attrition from the profession.
“Although women’s equal participation with men at the car is critical, for many years, the legal profession has been able to limit the number of lawyers and social diversity of those admitted to practice.
"This limitation was accomplished through strict controls such as admission to law school and bar memberships that consigned women to the fringes. Today women lag behind men in leadership in most bar sectors,” Prof Dawuni added.
The study conducted interviews with 40 male and female partners and associates in law firms and government offices in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kitale and Kisumu.
The study attributed women’s slow progress to inflexible workplace structures, gender stereotypes, and sexual harassment.
In a statement, Amb Raychelle Omamo said that although she was proud to be elected the first and only female president of the LSK to date, she is looking forward to the day male and female composition in the society and the bar will be equal.