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Inside the Kenyan village where men are BANNED: Women living in Umoja say they will never go back to their husbands – despite violent threats and intimidation


Black Women in History

Inside the Kenyan village where men are BANNED: Women living in Umoja say they will never go back to their husbands – despite violent threats and intimidation


  • Women-only village Umoja was begun by Rebecca Lolosoli in 1990
  • Inhabitants live by selling jewellery and running a campsite for tourists
  • Village sits on the edge of the spectacular Samburu National Reserve
  • Many of the women suffered domestic abuse and violence in the past 

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, rape and FGM.

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.

Chief: Campaigner Rebecca Lolosoli, pictured, started the village in 1990 with 14 other women

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.

Beadmaking 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.’

Women only: The village is inhabited exclusively by women and children, with no men allowed in
Beautiful: The village occupies a picturesque stretch of land on the edge of the Samburu National Reserve

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.

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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