Umoja Village, Samburu District, Kenya – Rosalina Lirpura has always been surrounded by women.
At 18, she lives in a female village in northern Kenya, where she spends her evenings doing homework, bringing firewood or colorful bead jewelery.
Learpoora called Umoja home from 3 years. There, a group of 48 women lives with their children in huts, protected by a barbed brush, so as not to let intruders. When a person violates, they notify the local police, who either issue a warning or arrest the perpetrator, depending on the number of offenses.
Since then, he has become a refuge, welcoming women to avoid abusive marriage, female genital mutilation, rape, and other forms of assault. Even some women whose husbands died died there to find comfort and home.
She went to the village in 3 years
Lirpura never met her father – she was told that he died when she was 3 years old. Frightened that her extended family would force her to undergo female genital mutilation, her mother tied her to her and fled to Umoja, where they lived as a part. sisterhood for 15 years.
All Umoji women belong to the Samburu culture, an extremely patriarchal society that practices female genital mutilation and believes in polygamy.
Umoja – women of different generations: the oldest resident of the village at the age of 98 years and the youngest six months. Women of all ages run there, some with newborns in tow.
When the boys who live there with their mothers reach the age of 18, they are forced to leave the village, says Lirpur.
In the village, traditional Samburu huts, known as the multi-watt, decorate the landscape. The sounds of a wheezing chicken and giggling children fill the air.
Like other women in the village, Lirpur lives with her mother in a little arm made of wood, twigs and cow dung. Inside, the only light emanates from the flaming coals of fire anchored by three large stones.
In the evening, the tiny modular structures are full of life, the chatting women sit around the fire to talk about their day, while the beans and corn are boiled in large pots.
“I grew up surrounded by so many women,” says Lirpura. "It's like different mothers around you."
Dancing and beadwork
Outside the huts, women sit on mats, watching the children play. Sometimes they sing and dance to traditional samburu songs, their bright decorations and wrappers move to the beat. In other cases, they quietly make round bead necklaces, which are a trademark among Samburu women who they sell to make money for the community.
“As soon as they sell necklaces, they donate money to the village matriarch, who then distributes the amount of food for each family depending on the number of children on the farm,” says Lirpura. “Some of this money is also allocated to education, especially for young girls.”
In addition to selling jewelry, women earn income by working at a campsite for tourists traveling on safaris to the nearby Samburu National Reserve. They also receive donations from well-wishers from around the world who read about the village.
She wants girls to have the power of choice.
In a culture that does not believe in the education of women, Learpoora is one of the role models in the village. She is studying in the 11th grade at a nearby high school and hopes to become a teacher.
“If I had not come here, I don’t know what my life would be,” she says. “I probably would have suffered female genital mutilation and would have married a second or third wife to an older man. These women raised me, allowed me to get an education and challenged all these traditions. ”
In samburu culture, young women are forced to marry older men as a second or third wife in exchange for a dowry that is paid to their parents.
While times are changing, and some of these practices are slowly disappearing, Samburu remains one of Kenya’s most patriarchal and traditional cultures, which makes the village more anomalous.
Lipura says that when she grows up, she wants to become a teacher and help women fight this mindset.
“I want to teach girls that education is important. That you do not need to undergo FGM. This is only because this tradition does not mean that it should be so, ”she says.
Lipura is studying in a mixed high school where, she says, she learns to communicate with young men. She wants to marry in the future, she says.
“But her future husband will have to meet her many mothers and promise them that he will not insult,” calls Jane Lengop, 45, one of the Umoji women. Lirpura's mother was out of town, visited relatives and was unavailable.
The village is not always popular
While the village has empowered some women in the community, it also has its critics. Some residents of nearby communities describe women as too radical and capitalist.
Lavas Lemoro, 25, says he does not believe that women live in same-sex society. “They sneak in the middle of the night to meet people or bring them to the village,” he says. "Either that, or they use history as a way to make money."
When asked if men come to the village, Lirpur and women say no. She says that the only men who are trying to come are husbands who are looking for their wives, and they are quickly expelled.
What happens when women leave?
Vera Mwangi-Powell, the global director of The Girl Generation in Nairobi, says that although she applauds women for becoming champions of change, their approach does not solve the problem in the wider community.
“I think women are very brave, and we need more brave women, and this is the only way the FGM will end, so the village of Umoja needs to be congratulated,” she says. “But we need to find out how this change can affect the whole community so that girls who grew up in the village remain safe when they leave the village.”
Mwangi-Powell says that without comprehensive changes, the village provides temporary relief.
“What happens to them when they return to these communities?” Do they prepare these girls for the outside world? We saw how girls were rescued from FGM at an early age and when they got married [in] FGM communities are forced to undergo FGM, and this then counteracts salvation and protection, ”she says.
“Changes must be holistic where communities completely abandon social change, so that everyone is safe, no matter where they are.”