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Rebecca Samaria Lolosoli: The Courageous Matriarch Behind the Women Only Village in Samburu

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Rebecca Lolosoli is the founder of Umoja village in Samburu, a refuge for women fleeing from domestic violence and sexual abuse from men. The village is strictly for women. In fact, men are banned from entering the village.

Rebecca was married at the young age of 18 after dropping out of nursing school due to a lack of school fees. In her married life, she was a businesswoman selling goods in the village and advocating for women’s rights.

Rebecca learned of the women who were victims of rape by British soldiers, training in the nearby camp, and began to speak up. To “teach her a lesson”, four men from the neighbouring village attacked her, beating her up and stealing her money. Rebecca walked out of her marriage when her husband did not protest the beating.

Her own experience compounded with what she saw other women go through; rape, domestic violence, and marriage at a young age led her to the idea of a women-only community. In 1990, she took a bold step with fourteen other women and fled the village to create their own safe haven, Umoja Village.

To sustain themselves, the women started selling agricultural products. Since these commodities brought in little income, they quickly shifted to making jewellery and selling it to tourists.

On seeing their success, the men built villages around Umoja village to deter tourists from accessing the village.  On top of that, they attacked the women.

But the women were so determined to build a life for themselves that these challenges didn’t stop them. Instead of quitting, they saved money and bought all the surrounding villages inhabited by men. The savings also went towards building a school for their children and a museum for tourists.

Rebecca’s passion for women’s rights didn’t go unnoticed. She was appointed the chairperson for Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization, a women’s NGO that deals with issues to do with women’s rights and gender equity in Kenya, in 1995. Rebecca led the organization up to 2005. In 2010, she received Global Leadership Award for women empowerment initiative.

Later Diane von Fürstenberg, a Belgian fashion designer, signed her up for Vital Voices, an American international, non-profit, non-governmental organization that works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights. In 2012 Rebecca received the GR8 award in recognition of her fight for women’s rights.

Rebecca challenged the patriarchal society in Samburu, where women are not allowed to own land, livestock, or access education. She works tirelessly to ensure Samburu women are part and parcel of decision-making. She strives to ensure women have a right to run businesses and own lands. Part of her initiative is geared towards abolishing harmful cultural practices such as FGM and violence against women.

Currently, the village has around 100 women who are living peacefully. They are striving towards social and economic independence. 

Rebecca is one of the great women proving that women can initiate change, build societies, lead others, run businesses and thrive. We celebrate her courage, resilience, and commitment towards women’s empowerment and women’s rights. #ChooseToChallenge

Mourine Odongo
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