Watching Broadly’s “The Land of No Men”, a documentary about Umoja village in Kenya, brought up so much emotions and thoughts and I had this strong urge to write about theis community. Umoja village was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli in 1990 and become a safe haven for the women in the region. The matriarchal community is now home to Samburu women who suffered FGM, forced marriages, and sexual and physical abuse. This is what ignorance, lack of access to education and inequality looks like.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is already banned and considered illegal in Kenya but there are still some tribes that follow said tradition. In some villages, a woman can’t get married if she is not circumcised aka have her genitals mutilated. “Cut” girls have higher bride price and FGM apparently increases a family’s status within their tribes. Women in this part of the world are also treated as property and simply powerless. They have no control over their lives. Most of them were forced to marry men that are old enough to be their grandfather. A man can easily leave and replace his wife for just about any reason. They can beat their wives and if the wife dare leave her husband, her parents would simply return her to the husband because where else can she go? Rape is also very prevalent in this region be it in the hands of the locals or British soldiers. What’s worse is that women get the blame after being horribly abused, like it’s their fault for being raped in the first place. They are considered “unclean” and if they got pregnant they would be forced to resort to abortion which was performed by other women in the village. There are just so many atrocities against women that it made me cry. How can people be so cruel?
A public ceremony celebrating the season of female genital cutting, where girls undergoing FGM are being paraded openly in the streets
Sick of these age old traditions, a woman decided to establish a women only village. The Umoja Village is the first of its kind in Kenya where women run things and provides a place of shelter from women who suffered abuse from their husbands. To make ends meet, these women make bead necklaces and bracelets and sell it to the tourists. Umoja village was such a success that it inspired other women to put up their own villages too. Some villages are strictly for women only while some allowed men as long as they don’t interfere with how the women run things. A lot of men hated these villages especially the village leaders (who are men so it makes sense) because they strongly believe that women just can’t be leaders and make decision for themselves. They believe that these women only villages are in trouble because there would be no men to fight off attackers and women simply can’t fight. Makes me wonder who are these attackers might, probably the same men who resented these women run villages.
One man was interviewed about how he feels about the Umoja tribe. He hated the tribe because his wife left him and this time has somewhere to run to and a safe place to stay. He also said that he can easily replace his wife anyway. Another man was interviewed and was asked about female genital mutilation as part of their culture. He said that this tradition will continue mainly because their people are not educated. He believes that the tradition will eventually stop but in a very gradual manner. He personally don’t like the mutilation but felt helpless against an old age tradition. He has a daughter and he certainly don’t want her to go through such brutal practice.
Several women were interviewed and asked how they are faring since they started living in the women only village. Everyone is very happy with her decision. They finally feel empowered. One woman run away from her family because she was forced to marry an old man she doesn’t like. When asked if she would consider marrying someone, she firmly said no. Another woman, a chair lady of one of the women only villages was also asked if she could go back in time, would she marry and her answer was a very firm NO, like it is the last thing she’d ever do in her life. There are other women who were asked with the same question and their answers are all the same, a big and loud NO. It’s like the idea of marriage and a husband was completely ruined for them. I can’t really blame them, these women have gone through so much abuse and violence at the hands of the men who were supposed to cherish and support them.
These women are also determined to hold on to their new-found power and have no intention of giving men an ounce of control. As one of the chief ladies said, they held the power for so long and they took advantage of it. For her, once you give men power, they will only abuse it. She is adamant that women should lead and men should only follow. While I applaud her strength and determination, it is apparent that what she wants is female domination, not equality but simply a reversal of roles. This made me feel bad because as a feminist I believe in equality not superiority. I believe that men and women can work together side by side and create the best version of this world. This is an experimental community after all and they have so much learning to do. I hope that as women are gaining more power and independence, men would open their minds to the fact the world is changing for the better and they can contribute to this change by doing their part.
It is also very apparent what ignorance and absolute obedience can do to us. Blindly following an archaic tradition (something that shouldn’t even happen to begin with) without asking why will not help any society. Education is extremely important and as long as people are uneducated those who want to cling on to power will stay where they want to be.
Women are not things to be used and discarded and we should all know this. How can someone be cruel is beyond my understanding. Respecting people’s rights should come naturally to all us. These women survived the worst of and now fight abuse despite being in a society that barely recognize a woman’s right. They finally got a taste of what freedom is like and have no intention of giving it up. They realized how education and a source of living can do even for someone living in a place that seemed to be cut off from the rest of the world. While this documentary did broke my heart, it also gave me hope and inspiration. If these women who have almost no resources at all have fought against misogyny and patriarchy and contributed so much in this world then I have no excuse not be the best version of myself and fight for equality in any way I can.