Umoja village from its conception as an idea to its current of success is the true definition of the phrase, “against all odds’. The village came into existence as women ran away from the oppressive patriarchal practices in the Samburu tribe. Women wanted respect, they wanted to be noticed and they wanted to have a voice. Rebecca Lolosoli and a group of women decided they would not wait for anyone to give them what they needed they went out and made it happen.
The village is in Kenya and was founded in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli and a group of women who did not believe in the forced subordination of women. The name of the village (Umoja) is Swahili meaning unity. The name is symbolic of life led by the women in the village. It also symbolizes the strength they draw from their unity to overcome different challenges they ran from, to come and find sanctuary in their matriarchy.
Inhabitants of the village are mostly women running away from the illegal (but still practiced) female genital mutilation, forced child marriages, domestic violence, and inequality in their patriarchal societies. The women in the Samburu tribe cannot own land or any form of property, instead, they are regarded as the property of their husbands or any male authoritative figure including their fathers. The village is open to women from all over who are seeking sanctuary, freedom, and healing from the ills of patriarchy. Some of the inhabitants of Umoja are women who were chased away from their villages by their husbands after being raped by soldiers. The stories vary but the trauma remains regardless.
The women in Umoja have found healing in the strength and a shared desire to be independent. Umoja is a sign that women are not dependants neither are they unable, but just as strong and sometimes stronger than men. After the establishment of Umoja men tried attacking the village, with others attempting to kill Rebecca, without success. There were attempts to establish similar male villages all of which failed.
Umoja village is an exclusively female village. Men are not allowed to stay within the confines of the village, although they can visit. The male children of the Umoja women leave the village after they turn 18. The sons and their families stay in a nearby village and provide their mothers and the Umoja women security.
The exclusion of men from the village means women oversee all facets of life social, economic, and political within the village. The village has a training center where women are counseled concerning their past traumas, there is a school which is open to children from outside the village as well. The village is now a tourist attraction where tourists pay to enter and tour. The women of Umoja make a living by selling traditional crafts and beads. They are also engaged in farming to expand their sources of income.
The Umoja join an elite group of matriarchal societies which include the Mosuo (China), Bribri (Costa Rica), Minangkabau (Indonesia), Akan (Ghana), and Khasi (India). The conception of the idea of the village is however different. The Umoja was created to protect, accommodate, heal, and empower women from oppression and exploitation through practice and traditions in some patriarchal setups.
The Umoja although extreme are a practical example of feminism in society. A society with women in the helms of power, women in charge of day to day activities, women with a say over their lives, and a community where all human beings are perceived equal and have similar opportunities. It is an essential environment where women are healed and empowered. The village now owns the land they inhabit this is a huge stride for a gender that was made to believe they are not allowed to own any form of the property but instead are property themselves.
Such societies are necessary in a world where women's equality is a matter embodied in the black and white of legislation but does not find life in practice. The Umoja breathes life into substantive equality, women are given much of consequence in day to day living. Substantive equality protects the status quo of patriarchy whilst legislating against it, in practice it still finds life. The Umoja and other matriarchies across the world are a sign of inspiration and such setups should be emulated and synchronized into lives where both sexes cohabit and are still equal.