Destinations People & Culture

There’s a Women Only Kenyan Village And Here’s Why

Men are banned from this village

Only women are allowed to live in Umoja. The Kenyan village that began as a refuge for survivors of sexual violence – and became a thriving single-sex community.

The village 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 Samburu.

image: Georgina Goodwin for the Observer

Rebecca Lolosoli is the founder of Umoja and the village matriarch. She was in hospital recovering from a beating by a group of men when she came up with the idea of a women-only community. Umoja’s first members all came from the isolated Samburu villages all throughout the Rift valley. Since then, women and girls who hear of the refuge come and learn how to trade, raise their children and live without fear of male violence and discrimination.

There are currently 47 women 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. Village leaders run a campsite, a kilometre away by the river, where groups of safari tourists stay. Many of these tourists, and others passing through nearby nature reserves, also visit Umoja. The women charge a modest entrance fee and hope that, once in the village, the visitors will buy jewellery made by the women in the craft centre.

image: Photograph: Georgina Goodwin for the Observer

What about reproduction? There are many children in the village regardless of the women-only rule, and that’s because the women still like men, or want to have kids even if they stay unmarried. So women do go outside to find men, or at times men go to the village in the night and enter their huts and leave by morning. Which begs the question, can the two genders truly live without one another?