Umoja- A no ‘man’ land!
Far from the daily atrocities of women, lies Umoja in the grasslands in Samburu of northern Kenya- a land free from men! A place that had been a witness of thousands of tears and pain but is also an empire to independence, freedom and happiness. The village solely committed to women was first started in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli along with 15 women who became stigmatized in their communities. This village become home to all such women who were sufferers of patriarchy and abuse. Be it FMG, child marriage, rape, domestic violence to homicide, the victimized women often think about Umoja as their sole escape solution.
Women throughout the globe have been suppressed since ages. With time the conditions of women had changed, but this fact is partially true for countries like Kenya, India, Rwanda and so on. In these countries women are considered below men despite challenging them in almost every field, female abuse is still on rise. Practices like honour killing, dowry, genital mutilation, rape, domestic violence and child marriages still prevails as the symbol of the ill condition of women around the globe.
Rebecca Lolosoli and the story of motherhood?
Rebecca Lolosoli is the matriarch of Umoja Village. She created this village for all those women fleeing marriages, violence and other atrocities. Left alone on the deserted streets, such women are deprived of food, shelter or even the basic human rights. Thus, in order to bring all these women together, Rebecca felt the need to create a safe haven for them. But is it only about the wretched women or Rebecca has something more personal to her?
Hailing from the village of Wamba, at the age of 15, she had to undergo FMG, a traditional rite practiced in the region. Later, she was sold for 17 cows and forcibly married to a Kenyan man when she was only 18 years old. Rebecca nearly escaped rape by British soldiers at Archer Post military base and was then beaten by 4 men who took all her money. Learning about the incidence, Rebecca’s husband left her and from here began her Umoja journey.
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Upon founding the village in 1991, Rebacca received death threats and was often attacked by the men of neighbouring villages. In 2005 the women of Umoja elected Rebecca as the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO), a non-profit organisation dedicated to improve the status of women and give quality of life of rural communities in Kenya. She held the position for next 10 years. Throughout these years, she worked with several international organisation as well as publications to bring light to the issue of women safety in the country. However, in 2009 when Lolosoli was in New York, the village was attacked by her former husband, who came looking for her. He chased the women out of the village. The year 2010 was the turning point of her life when she finally achieved the right for divorce and legally established the Umoja village. A village where men are banned!
A place banned for men do not deny the fundamental need to mate. The women inside the village are free to have lovers outside the village and they can mate with anyone they wish; the only restriction is not to bring them inside the Umoja premises. These women also embrace motherhood, they are free to go out and have babies with freedom of raising their child inside the village and this is how the generation is maintained. To put up simply, it is the women who make all the decisions here. They raise each other children together and make sure that no child goes to bed hungry. The young boys are taught moral lessons so that in the future no woman faces the same tragedies as their mothers. Together, these women are shaping the future.
The roughly 50 women in Umoja today, along with about 200 children, have created an economy for themselves. The earn, teach and manage the entire village by themselves. Among these children, all the boys once turned 18 have to leave the village forever. However, they are free to meet their mothers outside the village.
The women of Umoja run Samburu National Reserve of safari tourists, campsites and charge an entrance fee for all the tourists who wish to visit the village. Other women in the village make splendid beaded necklaces, bangles, anklets and other colourful ornaments in the craft centre which are put up for sale. The money earned is shared equally and what is left is saved for emergencies. Then there are teachers who teach the younger ones about social norms like female genital mutilation, forced abortions, etc, that once was very personal to their mothers. They have also built a school on the Umoja land, and it’s open to the nearby villages as well. And just like this the whole village functions on its own.
This village is thriving because women here choose hard work over silence. They challenged the tribal system and created a safe haven for abuse heal. Umoja is a great example of how motherhood can shape the entire society differently to how one woman can make a difference!