It’s an emotionally trying experience to do an Internet search of women’s rights in Africa. Women in tribal communities are often seen as secondary citizens subject to some unimaginable treatment. But this is a positive story about women at Umoja, an all women’s community that opposes the traditional treatment of women. Umoja is providing a safe place for those who’ve fled their tribes.This is the story of how an all-women community in Kenya has become a tourist destination and is changing everything.
Rebecca Lolosoli and 15 other women founded Umoja, an all-women’s community, after being subjected to sexual assault in their own village. Lolosoli was invited by the U.N. to speak at a conference on gender empowerment in New York. She began receiving threats from the men of her former village before leaving for this trip, but she went anyway. Lolosoli partnered with a human rights lawyer to bring to trial the rape cases of many of her village members. A film was made about the village.
Many of the women who come to Umoja are escaping sexual assault in their own villages, or age-old traditions of polygamy, female circumcision or forced marriages. One such female was a 13-year-old girl who was being pursued for marriage by a man three times her age. That man was Lolosoli’s own brother. Lolosoli took the girl in and is protecting her from her brother.
Some of the men from the Rebecca Lolosoli’s original tribe have established a men’s only village nearby, from which they spy on Umoja.
The women of the village began a cultural center as well as a camping site for tourists who want to venture out of the nearby, large tourist attraction of Samburu National Reserve. Umoja and its female villagers earn revenue from these endeavors. Their competition is a nearby all-men’s village, which built a cultural center of its own — it isn’t receiving many visitors.
The Umoja village has become so popular and attracted so many women put out of their homes by their tribes, that the village needed some help. Umoja villagers hired men to work around the village doing tasks that would traditionally be considered “women’s” work like fencing, carrying wood and grazing.
It’s not only victims of sexual assault who come to Umoja. Umoja has also become a safe-haven destination for women hoping to get a divorce, escaping tribes where that isn’t allowed.
The competing men’s tribe is said to be disintegrating, with many of the members moving back to their original tribes. Many are even struggling to get married since women in the area are following Lolosoli’s advice.
You can purchase crafts such as gorgeous jewelry made by the members of Umoja online at Umojawomen.net. The community uses this money to help pay for its members to go to school, get divorces, eat well, receive healthcare and much more. The women who make the jewelry are paid directly, and receive about twice what’s considered the “fair wage” of Kenya.
Men have come and physically beaten Lolosoli for purchasing lands — something they said women should not be allowed to do — and have thrown rocks at her for teaching tribal women to stand up for themselves. Lolosoli responds with calm and kindness.
Some groups of women who came to Umoja for help after escaping abuse at the hands of their tribes have grown so strong that they’ve broken off and formed new all-women’s communities.