Umoja village in Kenya is known as a women-only village where men are banned.
The village is called Umoja, meaning ‘unity’ in Swahili, and is a refuge for survivors of rape and sexual violence. For nearly 30 years, it has been a sanctuary for women forced out by their husbands, and young girls escaping female genital mutilation and forced marriages.
Women fleeing domestic abuse have found a safe haven in Umoja, where they can raise their children, and be part of a sisterhood.
In Kenya, domestic violence against women has been something hidden for years until one woman, Rebecca Lolosoli, decided to speak up about women’s rights and was beaten by men in her village. Her husband, who bought her for a herd of cows, failed to stand up for her. Lying in the hospital recovering from her wounds, she decided that enough was enough.
She left her husband and began to build a manyatta, or village, where men are not welcome. In fact, they are banned. One by one, other women followed.
The village was founded in 1990 by a group of 15 women who were survivors of rape by local British soldiers. Umoja’s population has now expanded to include any women escaping child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), domestic violence and rape – all of which are cultural norms among the Samburu.
Some men set up a rival village nearby and tried to dissuade visitors from buying anything from Umoja. But every day the women sat on mats creating beautiful jewellery. Every day they displayed their handicrafts. And every day the tourists kept coming.
They were able to put together their income to start a school which is filled up with children. They also share their income with the husbands and families they fled.
Men are allowed to visit the village but not to stay the night, unless they were raised there. It is a sanctuary for girls who refused to be circumcised or forced into marriage with an older man, and for women who were beaten by their husbands or raped and made to feel it was their fault. The village also raises orphans, abandoned children and children with HIV.