It was a Saturday afternoon when I got the chance to finally connect with Wambui as she was taking a much-needed break from her demanding schedule at the high court and with the other stakeholders in her community who she attends to as an advocate. It is not easy to get Wambui to sit and share her story because believe me, this woman has so much packed into her regular day that it makes me wonder how she manages to do everything that she does within a 24-hour cycle. To introduce her before we delve straight into her story, I wish to highlight her love and passion for social justice. The aspiration to one day become the Chief Justice in her country while grounding her focus on empathizing with the voiceless members in her community, especially the youth and women, make her indeed a youth icon who stands out. Her ambitions find a deep and reflective resonance with her belief in families as an important unit for societal transformation and her rallying cry to embody power as a woman and as an advocate to do the balancing act that rewires societal structures of inequality and violence is uniquely bold and graceful at the same time, a characteristic that marks her personality in a special way as we will discover through her story. Having said that, let us now proceed directly into our dialogue to understand Wambui's life through her very own words.
Wambui: "I had a difficult and stressful week you know. I am so glad I finally got to relax. And I am happy I am doing this."
Me: "Thank you Wambui for taking the time to share. I can tell you are exhausted. Tell me more about your week. What were you up to?"
Wambui: " So I was following up on a case of abuse by an intimate partner. The Criminal Investigation people were trying to frame the woman as having lied to get rid of the case. This happens a lot here in Kenya. Victim blaming you know. They had locked up the girl who had complained while alleging that she lied. I was at the police station fighting for her and finally got her released. It was emotionally draining and very stressful. But I made sure that justice was served before I took this break. Now I feel like I can rest a little."
I could tell from her tone and the conviction with which she shared about her work, Wambui took the matter of justice very seriously. I was already getting a glimpse of her passion for her cause.
Me: " Tell me more about your work and motivation Wambui. What got you started on this path? "
Wambui: " Well, I guess I will have to take you back to my childhood to explain how I came into this work. I am an advocate at the High Court of Kenya as you know and practice art Wachira Kirigo & Co. Advocate firm as a partner. I practice in family law( divorce, children custody, succession), criminal law, and conveyancing( land laws). I also fight for domestic violence survivors in police stations, chiefs camps, and also in courts. In a sense, I fight and argue a lot." ( chuckles )
I could tell from the way Wambui was sharing that her strength was her voice and she was very well aware of the same. She had made a conscious decision to study and practice law to advocate for change by pushing for change at the level of legislation with a focus on administering justice with empathy at the grassroots for those who were hapless victims of patriarchy and an unequal politico-legal system. This woman had a long term game-plan alright. Her intelligence and foresight in terms of the path that she had chosen were aligned beautifully to her sense of self too. I found myself hooked to the story already and waited for her to continue. This was also a chance for me to know more about Kenya and the life and struggles in another culture.
Wambui: " I grew up away from the city and in a more or less remote location. My father really supported the education of me and my siblings. We are ten siblings, six girls among the whole lot.
I belong to the Kikuyu tribe, one of the largest and most prominent tribes in Kenya. In my tribe, women are generally light-skinned but I am dark. Even my sisters have a lighter skin tone. So, while growing up, I did face body shaming in terms of skin color within my community. I fought against the intracommunity racism from an early age and I figured over time that women have multiple struggles on various fronts in a system that is built on patriarchy. I grew up to contest the stereotypical notion of beauty by embodying body positivity. Over time, as I stepped into the field of practicing law, I decided to lend my voice to encourage women to step up and claim their rights, understand how they can make their own lives while breaking out of the traditional boxes that society encourages them to fit into. You could say this was a realization I grew up with that deeply influenced my work. "
Me: " Tell me more about the struggles of women in your community that you witnessed."
Wambui: " Oh the struggles include practically everything from access to quality education, understanding reproductive health, and standing against abuse to economic justice and overall equal opportunities. In fact, in 2014, I along with 10 other women organized an "MY DRESS MY CHOICE" campaign to stand against a case of public stripping of women. It was a very successful campaign and we went on to successfully get a law in place that led to imprisonment for no less than 20 years if someone stripped anyone again. When not in court, I spend time at an informal settlement in Nairobi called Kiambiu where I work with an organization called Teenseed. Here I work to address issues of equality, the right to education, economic justice, sexual and reproductive health, and general rights of the community to access justice. "
I was touched with Wambui's rootedness to grassroots communities despite her ambition to rise in power to shape the legal justice system in her country. I decided to probe more.
Me: " What makes you go back to serve the grassroots communities with so much empathy?"
Wambui: " Remember I told you, my father, really supported my education?"
Me: " Yes."
Wambui: " I am very close to my family and they really support my work. My father who supported my education is not educated himself. His faith in me got me this far and I owe it to my community and many others who do not get that support to provide the support that I can because of my education. I still remember how happy my parents were when I got admitted to the Bar. Family is very important to me and I believe that societal transformation begins at home. In my work with family law, I help families to factor justice into their approach to settle disputes. I make sure that no woman loses custody of her child because of a lack of resources or assistance and also that no man loses his family because of women misusing the law to get revenge. My family has been my backbone for my work and I believe that strengthening communities at the grassroots by understanding the importance of family is wisdom. "
Me: " It must have been a difficult journey for you too, making your way despite the patriarchal issues in your community. Tell me more about that."
Wambui: " I will cite a few basic details on this note. For example, many of my clients who would come to our firm to seek services were surprised that I, a woman is a partner. Then again, while fighting in courts and police stations, I have often had people feeling distinctly uncomfortable that I have a loud voice that is well informed and that I am able to negotiate on my own terms. These are regular incidents really. These days I know how to not give much attention to these factors."
Me: " You are also one of the URI Global Trustees right?"
Wambui: " Yes. The United Religions Initiative has recognized me as their trustee and I recognize the need for inter-religious work at the grassroots level to bring balance into the world. This field has a lot to offer for uprooting patriarchy if you ask me."
I smiled in agreement and acknowledgment of Wambui's keen insights and her wisdom. This cause is very close to my heart and my work as well. At 28 years, Wambui is well on her way to demonstrating the sheer might of an indomitable will and a loud, well-informed voice. An intelligent rebel who is connected to the pulse of her community in an earthy and unassuming way, this ebony-skinned beauty exuded power even as she chatted candidly, her body posture relaxed and her voice calm, gentle and measured. I closed the call, coming away deeply inspired by the exchange. I hope to continue this dialogue and engage again to cheer her on as she proceeds "onwards and upwards" along the way.