Feminist Trailblazers in KenyaUmoja's Women Village
In the red sands of Samburu, Kenya, fifteen brave souls created a women’s village in 1990. Called Umoja, or “Unity” in Swahili, this village provides refuge to women in a society that sees them as property–and expendable. Umoja provides shelter for women fleeing female genital mutilation, child marriage, rape, forced abortions, and more. These are not isolated abuses–these are injustices that every Samburu girl and woman faces in her life.
Together, the women create beaded handicrafts to sell to passing tourists. With that money they’ve created a primary school to educate the next generation–not only in reading and writing, but that women’s rights are also human rights. There are currently 38 women and their children in the village and almost 80 students from the surrounding villages who attend Umoja’s school.
Umoja’s matriarch, Rebecca Lolosoli
When Umoja’s matriarch, Rebecca Lolosoli, helped to found Umoja more than three decades ago, she had no blueprint, no role model. Within this northern Kenyan culture, the idea that women had any rights was a laughable concept at best, while most regarded it as a dangerous notion that must be squashed.
Rebecca and the women of Umoja came to this ideology on their own, in an absolute vacuum. They’ve dedicated their lives to saving other women from indignity, abuse, and death–even in the face of being murdered for daring to question the status quo.
We had the good fortune to visit Umoja in September and learn more from Rebecca directly. She showed us a traditional house made of cow dung and wood, but this one had been modified with a strong stone door. Violent men –angry at the women for bucking the norm and doing what they need to do to survive– still storm the village and break into houses to hurt these women in unimaginable ways.
A proper door on their homes provides a much-deserved sense of security. Fifteen houses still need this safety upgrade at $200 USD per door. Although Umoja will use donations as they see fit, we would like to think of this as “The Door Project,” providing basic security to the most vulnerable women and children.
As you can imagine, they were particularly hard hit when tourism stopped during the global lockdown. If you feel moved to support the women of Umoja, we would be happy to facilitate the bank wire to Umoja’s Kenya bank account and pay the associated fees.
Rebecca shows us one of the upgraded doors that provides more safety for the women and children inside.
- Venmo: @Lauren-Rathvon
- PayPal: L.S.Rathvon@gmail.com (personal transaction)
- You can donate by credit card (via PayPal) using this link (https://bit.ly/umojadonation)
- Umoja’s website
- The Land of No Men: Inside Kenya’s Women-Only Village: YouTube video by VICE Life. This is an interesting video because it also interviews local men and their views on Umoja (spoiler alert: it’s not good).
- Umoja: A Village Where Women Rule (gendersecurityproject.com)
- The Village Where Men Are Banned (The Guardian)
- Umoja Wikipedia article
- Rebecca Lolosoli Wikipedia