By Simiyu Simiyu
370KM north-east of Nairobi, you spot women in beautiful and colourful traditional wear with beads around their necks selling traditional Samburu crafts. You also spot a heap of huts made of mud and cowdung and secured with a fence of thorns.
Here, only women and young children are spotted going about with their normal life. But where are the men? Sorry! Men are not allowed here, Thanks!
This is Umoja village in a small town of Archers Post in Samburu County.
What many do not know about this unsung village, which means “Unity”, is that it’s a Matriarch village founded in 1990 by women activist Rebecca Lolosoli and 14 others to secure women and young girls from domestic violence and female genital mutilation that is practiced in the Samburu community besides being banned by the government.
“Cases of rape had become, and are still prevalent in the area . Women and girls had no where to go.” Rebecca said in an interview with an online publication. “We then established this place as a home for the hopeless Samburu women to find a way of helping them.”
Born 55 years ago in Wamba village, Rebecca got married at a shy age of 18 immediately after completing her primary education. Her husband’s efforts to support her campaign earned him thorough beatings from agitated men who were against her.
Bailing for her blood, the Samburu men would not tire to find and teach her a “lesson”. As a result, Rebecca eloped to save herself from the wrath of the men.
With the support of several other unnamed women with similar ideologies, she founded Umoja village to provide home and empower the women both socially and economically.
With the total number of women now clocking 70 and nearly 250 children, the women engage in making traditional crafts and selling them to tourists who visit the adjacent Samburu National Park. The women also boast of a Primary school, a camping site for tourists and a cultural centre under theirmanagement. These projects generate economic value to the “villagers”.
Women here observe discipline and stick to their traditional mode of wearing. However, men are actually allowed to visit but under condition that they won’t stay for a night.
This has earned Rebecca the Global Leadership Award by Vital Voices in 2010.
Nevertheless, the establishment of this village was never easy. Acquiring land to settle was a big hurdle to start with. Men could storm their village and attack them to discourage them from settling on their own.
“Men could storm and attack us in the village.” Rebecca tells reporters.
“As a result, we took some Ksh 200,000 to acquire our own piece of land. The jealousy men were blocking the road to our village so that visiting tourists do not access us.”
The Samburu community still views women as inferior creatures who cannot lead themselves without men.
However, these women have stood firm and are doing greatly in life and continue to support each other and rescue women and young girls who escape from genital mutilation and other domestic violence.