So you're probably here because you read a thread on Twitter about a unique women's only village!? This article is about the women's only village in Kenya named 'Umoja'. I have actually done an article about unique African culture where gender roles are reversed. You can check out that blog post here (after you read this one!). Women come to Umoja to escape sexual and domestic abuse, child marriage, forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and a general oppressive way of life under the rule of men in their villages.
Umoja village was established in 1990, by Rebecca Lolosoli, who is the village's chairlady and matriarch. She is also a known advocate for women's rights, Rebecca has been a voice for justice since she got married at just 18 years old. She was deeply affected by witnessing local women being raped by British soldiers near her home when she was growing up. Rebecca also suffered a traumatic experience herself; when local men had heard about her activism, this angered them, and they beat Rebecca until she was hospitalised. Not receiving any support from her then husband, she left the marriage and found other women who were also domestic / sexual abuse survivors, to establish the Land of no Men, 'Umoja'
When asked about how Umoja came to be by VICE back in 2015 , Rebecca responded:
"As a Samburu woman, you have no rights. If the husband wants to kill you, he has the right to kill you any time, because you are like a property".
In Umoja, women build all the houses themselves, they farm for themselves and look after the children.
They make jewellery and sell it to passing tourists nearby to earn a living. This is their sole dependency to make a living, so it is important that when tourists pass by to see them, that they treat themselves to some beautifully hand-crafted beaded jewels.
In their community, they have built a school, which serves children from Umoja and surrounding villages. The Umoja women value education and want their children to be able to leave the village for a better life.
Women who live in Umoja are still having children, so son's are welcome in the community, only if they vow to respect the Law of the women and do not try to overturn them. Some of the women from Umoja still do have relationships with men, but they will do this outside of the village as no grown men are welcome.
Men in Uproar
The local men would argue that Rebecca and her tribe of women are bringing a bad culture to the Samburu, because rejecting female genital mutilation (FGM) goes against their cultural customs. However, women have had enough of being subjected to FGM and recognise it along with other forms of abuse. So they took off and led each other to the Samburu district.
There have been many threats to the wellbeing of the women of Umoja. Many men from the Samburu tribe deem it as unacceptable that women can have their own village, and they vow to destroy the village entirely. Often, men would attack the female sellers and steal their earnings. But the Umoja women say they would rather be killed there, than forced out of their all-female sanctuary.
It is not uncommon for an enraged husband to come to Umoja looking for their wives who have left them, so the Umoja women take turns to stay up at night and watch over each other in case of intruders. When the women of Umoja come into contact with men who are intruding in their village, they often gather in groups and flog the men, and dress them up in women's clothes to teach them a lesson.
What is clear to me about Umoja is that it is a real safe space that was derived out of pain and desperation. Desperation to feel safe and away from abuse is what has enabled these women to prove all their nay-sayers wrong, and survive in a village where there are no men to depend on. The women are fully independent and self-reliant, and have become a real marvel to the rest of the world, with people travelling thousands of miles just to witness this matriarchal way of life that the Umoja women live.
The influence of Umoja
After Umoja grew, similar villages in surrounding areas that are governed by women began to emerge. Unlike Umoja, men are permitted in the other villages, but it is Rebecca who has the final say on who can be a citizen of the wider community. A popular surrounding village is 'Nachami'. The chairlady of this village Mary, makes it clear that women maintain power and command in the village because they are an "experimental group". It is the women who have allowed the men to live among them, so the men cannot do anything without a woman's guidance. To live in a village like Nachami, men must reject traditional Samburu culture and agree to follow a new way of life.
Male residents in places like Nachami agree to only marry one wife, to respect their wives and see them as equal to them, and to put in the same amount of work in household and community duties as their wives. Relationships in Nachami between men and women are actually just about equality... what these women are asking for is not ground-breaking, but because they have been subjected and accustomed to living under such violent patriarchy, the women are happy to welcome men who see themselves as equal to women.
There are other surrounding villages where women are in charge, such as Supalake village and Nang'ida village; the gender roles here are differentiated. Men can do the physical tasks, but women still make the rules, and hey, it seems to work for them *shrugs". Quite fittingly, the meaning of 'Nachami' is 'love' - the villagers vow to love each other, I think this as a trickle down affect of Umoja is truly a beautiful and harmonious equilibrium. More men are moving to living in these matriarchal villages because they say they have been "enlightened" and would not want their daughters to suffer the same abuse that other women have.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something new! Stay tuned for the next one and be sure to:
- Follow me on Twitter @ssozinha__
- Follow this blog on Instagram: @by.ssozinha
- Subscribe to this blog HERE
Thanks for reading.