World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient, Peris Mukoko is not someone who is scared of a challenge.
A member of the first ever Kenyan women’s national team, Mukoko hung up her boots and picked up a whistle in her early 20s as refereeing offered more regular opportunities to connect with the game she loves.
She went on to break ground as a match official, being selected by Rugby Africa for a month-long training camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2014 and getting a taste of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series action in Dubai in December of the same year.
Mukoko served as an assistant referee during the Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2017 and has since passed on her knowledge as Kenya’s first female World Rugby-accredited match official educator.
In 2019, Mukoko’s standing in the game was confirmed when she was co-opted onto the Kenya Rugby Union board. By her own admission, being one of the first female representatives on the board – alongside Wangui Kibe – brought its challenges but they only served to push her on.
That is why she made the decision to apply for the Scholarship, so she could upskill herself and better advocate for female match officials and women in rugby.
“I opted to apply for the Scholarship because it was going to give me a platform to actually raise the standards of women match officials and women's rugby in Kenya and East Africa,” she told World Rugby.
“It's best to actually show that Kenya also has the capability to put women's rugby on the map as well from a leadership perspective.”
Supportive leadership network
The application process was not a straightforward one for Mukoko as she had just given birth to her first child, daughter Naya, when she made the decision to put her name forward.
She has been grateful for the support of former Scholarship recipient and current Rugby Africa Women’s Rugby Manager, Maha Zaoui, who guided her through that period while she adapted to parenthood.
Mukoko is due to start an online course in public policy analysis at the London School of Economics (LSE) next month, and the Scholarship is already having an impact on her career in Kenya.
With the Scholarship comes membership of a global network of female leaders and encouraged by the achievements of her peers, Mukoko has decided to stand for election as vice-chair of the Kenya Rugby Union.
“What the women have actually done is motivating me to vie for vice-chair of Kenya Rugby this year,” she said.
“It's through those networks and encouragement from the women, just women supporting women and women doing wonderful things to actually motivate.
“The networks actually help because you're able to get… if it's not a mentor, it's someone cheering you on. If it's not someone cheering you on, it's someone who's working with you.
“If it's not someone working with you, it's someone who has the same challenges that we're facing in Kenya [and asking:] ‘But how best can you actually manoeuvre through that?’
“So, the women in leadership network is actually a mix of wonderful ideas and people that I'm borrowing heavily from as well.”
On the campaign trail
Mukoko faces a busy couple of months as she juggles life as a mother – Naya is now 15 months old – with her LSE studies, her election campaign and a full-time job.
The KRU election will be held in March and between now and then Mukoko will need to spend hours talking to clubs and their representatives up and down the country to win their vote.
Her manifesto is a broad one, but women and development are at the heart of it.
Mukoko intends to increase opportunities for women to be a part of the game however they feel comfortable – playing, refereeing, coaching or administration – while ensuring infrastructure is put in place that can be built on successfully in the future.
“Before [election day] there are lots of things that happen in the background,” she said. “Having conversations with some chairmen and seeing how best we can continue to grow the women’s game, not only in Kenya but also across the world.”
It is almost three years since Mukoko was first co-opted onto the KRU board and in that time, she has learnt how to get her point across in a male-dominated space.
“I think maybe coming from playing rugby I've always understood the biggest challenges that are there, but I keep on being an echo,” she said.
“I say one thing today, I echo it again tomorrow and you know, there are only two ways to deal with an echo. You either listen or you act and see how best to implement it.
“So, some challenges are there. Sometimes you have to also be diplomatic but at the same time, you also have to be vocal.
“You just don't sit down and fold your arms and say whatever happens, happens.”
As she looks to the future, Mukoko says it would be a “dream” to watch some of the match officials she works with in Kenya referee on the international stage.
“My dream is to see one of them at Rugby World Cup,” she said.
Whether that happens or not Mukoko is determined to do whatever she can to help ensure rugby remains a “safe space” for women and provides them with opportunities to develop.
“It’s only fair for us to reflect what the core values of the game actually stand for and build on it,” Mukoko said.
“It's a sport for all. It encompasses and looks at different ages, different ethnicities, different genders.
“Hopefully, when that time comes, we'll be able to look back and say at least we took a step and we tried, and we continue to march on, and we see the next stage the road leads us to.”