[By Zsuzsanna Gal ]
In a small Kenyan village called Umoja are only women allowed to live. The whole single-sex community 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 Samburus, a semi-nomadic pastoralists living in North-Central Kenya.
According to African traditions and Islam and Qur’an culture, if a woman gets raped she is not clean to be a wife or a reputable member of the community anymore. Often these women get punished by their father or husband and are exposed to further physical abuse. Many of them left with no other choice but to flee. Several women find refuge in Umoja where they say they have everything they need, especially understanding and acceptance.
Every new arrival is greeted by the habitants who are singing and dancing for them, wearing traditional Samburu dress of patterned skirts, brightly coloured shirts and a kanga (a colourful wrap) tied on their shoulders.
There are currently 47 women, survivors of sexual violence, and 200 children in Umoja. Although the inhabitants live extremely frugally, these enterprising women and girls earn a regular income that provides food, clothing and shelter for all.
They are allowed to make their own money which is forbidden in many other parts of Africa.
The women charge a modest entrance fee to the village and hope that the tourists will buy jewellery made by the them in the craft centre. Another unique features of the Umoja community is that some of the more experienced residents train and educate women and girls from surrounding Samburu villages on issues such as early marriage and female genital mutilation to prevent girls from getting trapped in the harmful old traditions.