Village In Kenya Where Men Are Banned
Umoja village was founded in 1990 by a group of 15 women who were survivors of rape by local British soldiers,in Kenya.
Umoja’s population has now expanded to include any woman escaping child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, domestic violence and rape – all of which are cultural norms among the Samburu.
Rebecca Lolosoli who is the founder of Umoja and the village matriarch, was in hospital recovering from a beating by a group of men when she came up with the idea of a women-only in the community.
The beating was an attempt to teach her a lesson for daring to speak to women in her village about their rights.
The Samburu are closely related to the Maasai tribe, speaking a similar language.
They usually live in groups of five to 10 families and are semi-nomadic pastoralists, as their culture is deeply patriarchal.
At village meetings men sit in an inner circle to discuss important village issues, while the women sit on the outside, only occasionally allowed to express an opinion.
Umoja’s first members all came from the isolated Samburu villages dotted across the Rift valley.
Since then, women and girls who hear of the refuge come and learn how to trade, raise their children and live without fear of male violence and discrimination.
There are currently 47 women and 200 children in Umoja.
Although the inhabitants live extremely frugally, these enterprising women and girls earn a regular income that provides food, clothing and shelter for all.
Village leaders run a campsite, a kilometre away by the river, where groups of safari tourists stay.
Many of these tourists, and others passing through nearby nature reserves, also visit Umoja.
The women charge a modest entrance fee and hope that, once in the village, the visitors will buy jewellery made by the women in the craft centre.
Lolosoli is tall and powerfully built, her shaven head adorned with the traditional Samburu beaded ornaments.
One of the unique features of the Umoja community is that, some of the more experienced residents train and educate women and girls from surrounding Samburu villages on issues such as early marriage and FGM.