Photo: Getty Images

Patriarchy has been the ruling social system of our civilisation. In many societies, this means social power is given to the men of the community.

And where there is an imbalance of power there are many problems that pop up especially problems related to violence. When problems arise it is human instinct to find a solution and that is exactly what Umoja is a solution to a social problem (or at the very least an attempt at finding a solution).


1. Umoja was founded in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli.

After speaking out and demanding justice for the rape of Samburu women by British soldiers, Rebecca Lolosoli’s reward was a beating from her husband and men in the community. The beatings (despite Lolosoli being hospitalised) went unpunished. The series of injustices Lolosoli had to endure was not an isolated event, and so Lolosoli knowing there could be a better way founded Umoja with a group of 15 women.

Samburu women in Umoja

Photo: Kalamu.com

 

2. The village is a matriarch.

The village is headed by women, men are forbidden from living in the village.

Samburu women

Photo: Blackgirllonghair.com

 

3. The matriarch village has one major aim.

The traditional Samburu village is headed by a group of elders, all men. Meaning women have no say in what happens in the village or to them. And because power is monopolised by men, crimes against women routinely go unpunished forcing women in the community to suffer. The principal behind Umoja is to give the Samburu women an alternative; a safe haven for Samburu women trying to escape sexual violence and female genital mutilation.

Samburu women in umoja

Photo: Theguardian.com

 

4. A girl has needs …

While men are not allowed to live in Umoja, the women are free to date and have relationships.

Samburu women

Photo: Blackgirllonghair.com

 

5. The village is self-sustainable.

The primary source of income is the sale of jewellery. A business the women have managed to maintain despite frequent ambushes from men in nearby villages angered by the existence of the village. Some of the men attack them for personal reasons (for example a wife who ran away) others are motivated by misplaced principles. Regardless, the woman managed to maintain and added a small charge for visitors.

Samburu women

Photo: Blackgirllonghair.com

 

6. Soma na bidii.

The village values education and with funds from their jewellery business, the women of Umoja built a school open to all children in the area including those living in the patriarchal villages.

Samburu school

Photo: Umojawomen.net

 

7. The village has inspired sister villages around them.

There has been a trickle-down effect in the area where similar villages are being created. For example villages like Nachami and Supalake. However, the two villages are not copies of Umoja. In Nachami husbands are allowed to live with their wives in the village but only if they reject traditional systems and ways of thinking. In Nachami men and women split labour, property and duties equally. But, in Supalake the bulk of the labour is given to the men, and the women have overriding say in the running of the village (basically the reverse of patriarchy).

Samburu mother and Baby

Photo: Leonie.photoshelter.com

 

Umoja is the result of brave women deciding they deserved better and creating a space to have better lives for themselves and their children. Umoja and the similar villages specifically Nachami are inspiring and evidence that gender equality is achievable and our current society is not the only way to live. You may want to see here these amazing photos of swahili women back in the 1800’s that’ll take you way back into time.