Rebecca Lolosoli in A Land of Women

Rebecca Lolosoli. (Pieter Hugo for Newsweek)

Watching the Women in the World Daily Beast/Newsweek Summit on CSPAN this weekend introduced me to Daily Beast, Eliza Griswold and the remarkable Rebecca Lolosoli who founded a village where no men are allowed:

Our village has turned into a shelter,” Lolosoli says. Women and girls fleeing forced marriages, or ostracized for being raped, or trying to save themselves from female genital mutilation, come to Umoja in Kenya for safety. Sons are welcome—as long as they are willing to follow the village’s rules and do not try to dominate the women.

Say again???

In Swahili, Umoja [the name of the town] means unity. Many of the 64 women who live there are rape survivors. The perpetrators were often British soldiers who were stationed and trained nearby for more than 50 years.

“Wearing green uniforms they blended with the trees and when women collected firewood, the soldiers would jump out and rape them, laughing like it was a game,” Lolosoli says. She herself narrowly escaped attack by British soldiers several decades ago. (She doesn’t know her exact age, but guesses she’s around 48.)….

Finally, more than two decades ago, Lolosoli decided it was time to speak up on their behalf, no matter the consequences. She started attending community meetings to address this taboo.

When the response from community leaders was less than enthusiastic, she founded Umoja as a deliberate refuge for women and girls.   As if that wasn’t amazing enough:

Now, in addition to being a safe haven and a matriarchal utopia, Umoja is the center of a thriving artisans’ community, which centers around beadwork. Their wide, bright necklaces and elaborate headpieces are now de rigueur among folk-art fashionistas. Diane Von Furstenberg met Lolosoli in 2009. Last year, Von Furstenberg introduced the Samburu women’s intricate, sophisticated beadwork into her spring collection.

I’ve been knocking the “tribal” spring fashion theme as another Africa-Is-SO-Exotic meme.  But if it emerges from partnerships like this, I may need to be down.

And can you imagine?  A world of women of women and children?  My gut reaction was fear for the vulnerability of a female village–attack, confiscation of land, kidnapping, etc.  But this village has been at work for 21 years!  Which means a generation of sons were raised in a female-friendly, woman-loving and affirming space! Wut!

I’m giddy.  I’m tingly with happiness.  And I’m so down it isn’t even funny.  Can I move there?  Today?

This is just one of the inspiring and humbling stories I saw and read via CSPAN/interwebs.  The summit actually happened two weekends ago, but go to the Daily Beast Women in the World Summit page and read the recaps, biographies, video, and more.  They will put a fire under your ass.  If these women can do big things, you’ve got no excuse.


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