Umoja is literally a no man’s land in Kenya – a matriarchal refuge where men are not allowed. The village, founded 25 years ago by Rebecca Lolosoli, is meant to be a safe haven for women and girls who want to escape abuse in the otherwise patriarchal society of the Samburu people, in northern Kenya.
Rebecca, a member of the Samburu tribe, now serves as the chief matriarch of ‘Umoja Usau Women’s Village’. Having witnessed occasional violence as a child, she slowly came to the conclusion that some of the traditional Samburu practices were inherently abusive towards women. So she began to speak out against these practices, in favour of widows, orphans, and victims of rape, female genital cutting, and forced marriage.
Rebecca’s outspoken attitude was met with a lot of resistance. Things got out of hand when she spoke up for a few women who were raped by British soldiers training nearby. Men in her village beat her up, and her husband did not protest on her behalf. So in 1990, she led a female exodus and started her own village.