There is a village in the grasslands of Samburu in northern Kenya, and it’s rather unique. The village of Umoja—“unity” in Swahili— is guarded by a thorn fence, and for good reason: there are no men allowed there. It’s all women.
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.
Rooted deeply in patriarchy, the Samburu people are semi-nomadic—largely polygamist—and closely related to the Maasai tribe. The roughly 50 women in Umoja today, along with about 200 children, have created an economy for themselves. There are no bells and whistles to their lifestyle but the women and children earn a regular income to take care of their basic needs. Of the children, when the boys reach the age of 18, they have to leave the village.
The women of Umoja run a campsite for safari tourists, and charge an entrance fee for tourists to visit the village. Within the village, the women make colourful beaded necklaces, bangles, anklets and other jewellery in the craft centre which are put up for sale. The older women also teach the younger ones about social norms like female genital mutilation, forced abortions, etc, which they have escaped from. They have also built a school on the Umoja women’s land, and it’s open to the nearby villages as well.
The women do not lead an isolated existence. They go out into neighbouring villages, markets, schools, but have also managed to build themselves a safe haven where they can lead a life of respect.