Two Samburu ladies wearing wedding necklaces.

The village without men – Umoja, Kenya.

Umoja Uaso (“unity” in Swahili, the Uaso Nyiro is a nearby river), is a village in Kenya. The village, founded in 1990, is an all-female matriarch village located near the town of Archers Post in Samburu County, 380 km (240 mi) from the capital, Nairobi. It was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli, a Samburu woman, as a sanctuary for homeless survivors of violence against women, and young girls running from forced marriages. The women of the Samburu people do not agree with violence and the traditional subordinate position of women.

While many women support the polygamous marriages in the neighbouring villages, the women in Umoja have escaped these odds by taking charge of their own lives, relationships and education.

They run a primary school, cultural center and camping site for tourists visiting the adjacent Samburu National Reserve. They create and sell jewellery to benefit the village, which is one thing the men are opposed to. Men assume the position of being the providers and these women have changed that narrative by providing for themselves which has subjected some of these women to being beaten for this reason.

Rebecca Lolosoli founded Umoja village as a safe haven for the region’s women. It is quite literally a no man’s land, and the matriarchal refuge is now home to the Samburu women who no longer want to suffer at the hands of men.

Throughout the years, it has also empowered other women in the districts surrounding Samburu to start their own men-excluding villages.

Broadly visited Umoja and the villages it inspired to meet with the women who were fed up with living in a violent patriarchy, take a look at the video below to get some insight on this village.

Men are permitted to visit the village, but not allowed to live in Umoja. Only men who were raised as children in Umoja may sleep in the village. and while men are not allowed to live in Umoja, the women are free to date and have relationships.

This village continues to grow seeing that in 2005, there were 30 women and 50 children living in Umoja. As of 2015, there were 47 women and 200 children living in the village. we are certain that the population of Umoja will continue to grow as the women continue to give birth to both girls an boys and also taking into consideration that they have taken charge of their own economy

Residents of Umoja are engaged in traditional Samburu crafts which they sell at the Umoja Waso Women’s Cultural Center. Crafts include colorful beads, a home-brewed low-alcohol beer analogue and more. The items are also available on a website. The women also run a campsite for tourists.[ Every woman donates ten percent of their earnings to the village as a tax to support the school and other needs.

History

Samburu women have a subordinate position in their society. They are not allowed to own land or other types of property, such as livestock. Women themselves are considered property of their husbands.[ They can be subject to female genital mutilation, forced marriage with the elders, rape and domestic violence.[ In the early 1990s, there were over 600 reports of Kenyan women who were raped by British soldiers. Since then, a case was brought up against the military for the rapes of over 1,400 Samburu women. The case was cleared.[ These women were abandoned by their husbands because they were considered to be “defiled.”. Other men drove the women out of their houses fearing they would now contract sexually transmitted diseases from their raped wives.[

After many women found themselves without homes, they created Umoja. Rebecca Lolosoli is one of the founders of Umoja, and came up with the idea of creating a village for women when she was recovering after being beaten for speaking out. Eventually fifteen women came together to found the original village in 1990.[

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.

After Lolosoli visited the United Nations in 2005, men in the neighboring village filed a court case against her, hoping to shut down the village. In 2009, Lolosoli’s former husband attacked the village, threatening her life. For a time, the women fled the village for their safety.[

The women of the village currently own the land itself which is testament to the South African proverb; ‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’ which translates “You strike the women, you strike the rock”.

There has been a trickle-down effect in the area where similar villages are being created. For example villages like Nachami and Supalake. However, the two villages are not copies of Umoja. In Nachami husbands are allowed to live with their wives in the village but only if they reject traditional systems and ways of thinking. In Nachami men and women split labour, property and duties equally. But, in Supalake the bulk of the labour is given to the men, and the women have overriding say in the running of the village (basically the reverse of patriarchy).

These women of the Umoja village have been struck and they fought back, now they own the land they walk on. We encourage tourist to visit this village to not only witness this no ‘mans’ land, but also to contribute to their economy.

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