Sex-Crime Survivors Have Their Own Village

Umoja is a matriarchal refuge for women
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2015 7:00 PM CDT
In This Village, It's No Men Allowed
Women in Umoja.   (Wikimedia Commons)

Visit the Keynan village of Umoja and you'll see women in colorful clothing sing, dance, and sell beautiful beads. Look again, and there are only women—because only women are allowed to live there, the Guardian reports. Located in northern Kenya, the matriarchal village is currently home to 47 women who have fled a culture of sexual violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation among the semi-nomadic Samburu people. Many will talk freely: One says she was "traded for cows by my father when I was 11 years old" to a 57-year-old man and fled the marriage on its first day. Another was raped by men in British-soldier uniforms and beaten by her husband when he found out. Village founder Rebecca Lolosoli says she was beaten for discussing women's rights in her village.

Umoja was started 25 years ago by 15 women allegedly raped by British soldiers—and once raped, "they are not clean any more in Islam and Qur'an culture," a resident says. Several of them made rape allegations spanning 30 years, mostly against British soldiers, and presented their mixed-race children as evidence. But when Royal Military Police investigated, no DNA tests were made and all paperwork in the cases vanished. Police ultimately addressed rape allegations by 2,187 Kenyan women and dismissed them all, Reuters reported at the time. Despite their shared pain, Umoja residents talk about the pleasures of selling home-made beads and raising children fathered by men in neighboring villages. "I don’t want to ever leave this supportive community of women," says one. "We don’t have much, but in Umoja I have everything I need." (More sexual violence stories.)

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