In the grasslands of Samburu County in Rift Valley, Nothern Kenya, lies a quiet village called Umoja, a single-s3x village where men are ‘banned’. The whole village is fenced with thorns to maintain a gated community.
According to a report by the Guardian, Umoja was founded in 1990 by 15 women who were r@ped by British soldiers. Over the years, the village’s population has grown to include women escaping child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), domestic violence and rape.
The women-only community was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli. She is also the matriarch of the village which has over 47 women and 200 children.
She came up with the idea of establishing the village after surviving a beating from men in her community. She had attempted to speak to women in her community when she was caught by the men and beaten as a form of teaching her a lesson.
Since Lolosoli founded the village, it has become a heaven for women who come to raise their children, learn to trade, and engage in several other activities without fear of being discriminated against or intimidated.
The Guardian reports that she has faced numerous threats from men in the area but has remained undeterred.
Within the village, young girls and other women keep themselves busy by weaving various products. They also create beaded jewellery among other accessories which they sell to tourists and other potential buyers.
A kilometre from the village, the elder women run a campsite which attracts tourists who visit reserves in the area. They charge an entry fee to keep the business running and also provide for the village.
Elder women in the community train the younger ones about various issues including marriage, FGM, among others.
The village also owns a piece of land on which a school sits and attracts learners from several other Samburu villages.
“If a girl is married at an early age, that girl will not be a competent parent. Giving birth they face a lot of challenges: they rupture, they bleed, because they are young.
“Even performing their duties, their chores, it is hard for them. They are thrown into taking care of animals,” Milka, head of the academy school says.
“I have learned to do things here that women are normally forbidden to do. I am allowed to make my own money, and when a tourist buys some of my beads I am so proud,” Nagusi, a mother of five who lives at the village says.
Though the village is run and inhabited by only women and their children. There is a man who tends to their herds of cattle. He arrives before sunrise and leaves immediately he is done.
“Children, firewood and cooking are women’s business, and men look after the animals
“It’s funny because you don’t see men around here but you see small children, which means women go get men outside,” Lokutoi, the man, says.
A majority of the women within the village have children with different men. They meet the men outside the village in nearby towns.
In 2003, a group of women from Umoja met with solicitors from Leigh Day, a UK-based practice that conducted a monthly surgery in nearby Archer’s Post to work with locals who had been injured by bombs left behind by the British army.
The women disclosed allegations of rape spanning 30 years. Most women reported cases of gang rape by soldiers, who attacked the women when they were out gathering firewood or fetching clean water.
Martyn Day, a partner at Leigh Day, who was one of the lawyers approached by the women gathered a number of original documents, such as police and medical reports. There was a number of mixed-race children, yet relationships between Samburu and white people were unheard of.
Together with his team, he built a case and reported his findings to the Royal Military Police.
“However [the RMP] came to the view that every single one of these entries had been forged, even in the strongest cases identified
“They made no DNA checks on the mixed-race children because of the estimated 65,000 to 100,000 soldiers who would have been in Kenya during the 30-year period,” Day says.
Day requested the documentation back when RMP had concluded investigations but was told that it had disappeared. The paperwork has never been found.
The case is not closed but, says Day, it would be extremely difficult to relaunch without the documentation.
“We wanted to argue for compensation for the women and girls who had suffered at the hands of the soldiers,
“Their lives were, quite literally, ruined,” Days says.