Umoja: The African Village Where Men Are Banned

An African village is offering local women fleeing sexual violence and abusive relationships a safe haven where men are not allowed.

People often discuss what might happen if women ran the world. Beyoncé even sang a song about it. However, in the village of Umoja (which means Unity in Swahili) in northern Kenya, a small group of 15 women made it happen. And before you think this is a short-term or one-time occurrence, the village was started in 1990, and more than 25 years later it, and its inhabitants, are still thriving. What started as a haven for victims of sexual and domestic violence has expanded to become a crown jewel in the argument for gender equality.

Did you know?

  1. The leader of the village of Umoja is Rebecca Lolosoli, an advocate for women’s rights; she was beaten by men in her previous village for her beliefs.
  2. Rebecca was joined by 14 other women, all of whom were survivors of rape and sexual violence.
  3. Many reported being raped by British soldiers stationed in the area for training.
  4. In the patriarchal local Samburu culture women were often treated as property, and rape victims were beaten and shunned by their husbands.
  5. Over time, the village also took in domestic violence survivors, those escaping child marriages, women escaping arranged marriages, and women escaping female genital mutilation.
  6. The women in the village earn the majority of their income from their beading work. However, they also earn money from donors and hosting campers on the border of their village.
  7. Ornate beaded jewelry is an important part of Samburu culture, and the women sell the beading they create to tourists.
  8. The village itself is surrounded by a wall of thorns for the protection of the residents.
  9. The villagers do officially own their village, having purchased the land from the Kenyan government.
  10. Men in the area have tried to warn away tourists and have tried to sell crafts to visitors for cheaper, in an attempt to undercut the women of Umoja, but the attempts have failed—the women continue to prosper.