Doing Something Right? These women formed a safe haven for victims–very powerful. In the village of Umoja in Kenya, men are not welcomed. In facts, they are banned. In Swahili, one of Kenya’s official languages, Umoja means unity. It is a safe and inspirational refuge for 50 women and 200 children.
The village, discovered in 1990, is an all-female ruler village, located 380 km (240 miles) from the capital Nairobi, near the city of Archers Post in Samburu County. It was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli, a Samburu woman, who was as a sanctuary for the homeless survivors of violence against women, young girls to marry forcibly. The women of Samburu people do not agree with violence and traditionally women’s subordinate status.
Umoja was founded in 1990 by female survivors of rape and sexual violence. It has also become a haven for women fleeing sexual & domestic violence and welcomes people fleeing female genital mutilation, child marriage and more. They said, “I wouldn’t wish any Maasai girl to go through what I went through.”
The local Samburu culture is patriarchal where historically women were seen as property. Beading is culturally significant and the women are able to support themselves by selling crafts.
Protected by a wall of thorns, the village is self-sufficient and the women run their own lives. Despite resistance from local male-run tribal groups, the beautiful village continues to grow.
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Life is frugal, but the women own the land the village is on and proudly call Umoja their home. A beacon of light for women Umoja has inspired other women-only village in Kenya. Building, community, though, peace, love, and understanding rather than fear and violence.
They manage to run a primary school, cultural center, and camping sites for tourists visiting nearby Samburu National Reserve. They make and sell jewelry to benefit the village.
Samburu women have a lower position in their society. They are not allowed to purchase land or other types of property, such as livestock. Women are considered themselves the property of their husbands.
They might be subject to female genital mutilation, forced marriage with elders, rape and domestic violence. In the early 1990s, there were more than 600 reports of Kenyan women, who were raped by British soldiers. Since then, a case has been reported against Army for the rapes of more than 1,400 Samburu women.
The matter got cleared. These women were left alone by their husbands because they were considered “unholy”. Other men drove women out of their homes, fearing that they would now contract sexually transmitted diseases from their rape wives.
After many women found themselves without homes, they formed Umoja. Rebecca Lolosoli is one of the founders of Umoja and came up with the idea of making a village for women when she was recovering after being beaten for speaking out in public. In the long run, fifteen women came together to find the original village in 1990.
In reply, some men established their own unsuccessful villages in the neighborhood. Men tried to establish rival craft business or tried to discourage tourists from stopping at Umoja. Women finally bought the land on which men were settled on.
Firstly, the villagers started by selling vegetables purchased from others because they did not know how they cultivate themselves. It was not very successful, and the village turned to sell traditional crafts to visitors.
Kenya Wildlife Services took notice and helped women learn from successful groups in regions such as Maasai Hit – to improve the business of Umoja. Women also got help from Kenya’s Heritage and Social Services and the Ministry of Culture.
After Lolosoli visited the United States in 2005, men population in the neighboring village people filed a case against her, which forced the village to close. In 2009, Lolosoli’s former husband attacked the village, threatening her life. For some time, women fled from the village for their safety.
Currently, the women of this village own the land itself.