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Only women are allowed to live in this village

Umoja Uaso ("unity" in Swahili, the Uaso Nyiro is a nearby river) This village started as a sanctuary for 15 women, who survived sexual assault and rape by British soldiers in 1990. But today, the village has grown to give shelter, livelihood and a life to any and all women trying to escape genital mutilation, sexual assault and rape, domestic violence, or child marriage

Rebecca Lolosoli is the founder of Umoja and the village matriarch. She was in hospital recovering from a beating by a group of men when she came up with the idea of a women-only 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. 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.

In response, some men established their own, eventually unsuccessful villages nearby. The men tried to set up a rival craft business or would try to dissuade tourists from stopping at Umoja. The women eventually bought the land the men were occupying.

The villagers first started out by selling vegetables they bought from others, since they did not know how to farm themselves. This was not very successful, and the village turned to selling traditional crafts to tourists. The Kenya Wildlife Services took notice and helped the women learn from successful groups in areas such as the Maasai Mara, in order to improve Umoja's business. The women also had help from Kenya's Heritage and Social Services and the Ministry of Culture.

At Umoja you can enjoy a tour of the huts and manyatta, the pre-school, the napoo (village parliament) and a woman's home. You can find out more about the Samburu way of life, history and culture, visit the curio shop and see a display of blacksmith work plus traditional singing and dancing. There is also a Cultural Museum

Men are banned in this single-sex community, and if they trespass, they are thrown out and arrested by the local police; their huts are also protected by a thorny fence.

You might think that completely cutting men out of your life might be a little extreme. But the women of Umoja felt like it was the only way to be safe and free.

Gender based violence is extremely prevalent in the area (even more so compared to the rest of Kenya). Early marriages and female genital mutilations (FGM) are a very common occurrence for Samburu women, as well as rape. Rape victims often refuse to speak up because they face retributions for bringing “shame” to their community.


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Content created and supplied by: LehlohonoloBethuel (via Opera News )

British Rebecca Lolosoli Samburu Swahili Uaso Nyiro


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