Deep in the heart of Samburuland in remote northern Kenya, a village inhabited exclusively by women is celebrating its 25th birthday.
Begun in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli, Umoja is a haven for women and girls who have suffered sexual and domestic violence and rape.
But while women are welcome, men are not – a stance that has aroused much ire among local men and led to threats against Mrs Lolosoli.
Nevertheless, she says she will continue to fight for the rights of Samburu women while tackling the problem of female genital mutilation.
The village, which sits just outside the Samburu National Reserve, was begun 25 years ago as a sanctuary for abused girls and women fleeing forced marriage.
Originally home to 15 women, numbers have since increased and the village now has its own clinic and school.
Bead making is the principal source of money, although the women supplement their income by running a campsite for tourists on the edge of the village.
‘We saved for months for the down payment, it cost 200,000 shillings ($2,700),’ writes Mrs Lolosoli on the village website.
‘After we applied for the land, men came and beat us saying women should not own land. They said this was because of me and that they had to shoot me to get their women to be women again.’
They did not succeed and today, the village has become so successful, a sister village named Unity has been built nearby.
Nevertheless, some of the women remain traumatised by their past experiences – not least those who were raped, some, they claim, by British soldiers stationed in the area.
The cases were investigated by lawyer Martyn Day, who is infamous for pursuing false claims against British soldiers filed by Iraqis who said troops had ‘murdered and tortured’ detainees.
But after an investigation by the Royal Military Police concluded there was no foundation to any of the claims, Day told the Guardian that pursuing the allegations would be ‘difficult’.
Others complain of the effects of the patriarchal culture of the Samburu tribe which insists on a subordinate role for women and girls.
One particularly eye-opening practice is that of ‘temporary marriage’ for teenage girls who are paired up with older warriors chosen by their fathers.
More were married off to husbands who were more than three times their age, including one resident named Mary, now 34, who was just 16 when she was sold to an 80-year-old man for a herd of cows.
Another, named Jane, told the Guardian that she fled to the village to escape an abusive husband and brought her children along.
‘I want my children to be free to marry who they choose for themselves,’ she told the newspaper.
And in Umoja, where the elders who run the village refuse to countenance child marriage or FGM, her faith doesn’t appear to be misplaced.
Source: Daily Mail
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