Watch CBS News

Inside the Umoja community in Kenya where women rule — and men are banned

Inside a village in Kenya where women rule
Inside Umoja village in Kenya where women rule and victims of abuse can heal 05:13

In our series The World of Mothers, we look at what motherhood means around the globe. In this installment, we look at a community in Kenya healing from tragedy.

In a part of Kenya where women are often culturally regarded as second-class citizens, there is a village where women rule.

Samburu is an extremely rural part of Kenya where there is rampant poverty and unemployment. The infant mortality rate is over 35 percent. It's hard enough to be a woman in Samburu, but without a child there, you are regarded as nothing, reports CBS News' Debora Patta.

Diana Lekanta proved her worth by having three children – including 6-month-old baby Tau. Like so many women in African countries, where there is poverty, children are your riches.

It can come at a cost though. Lekanta's husband beat her constantly. No longer able to stand it, she fled to Umoja — the village where men are banned.

"Is it better to be a mother without a man?" Patta asked her.

"Fantastic," Lekanta said. "No stress."

More from The World of Mothers:

Stress-free is a word you hear often in Umoja. What it really means is that these women no longer have to fear the men who hurt them.

In Samburu a woman has a 95 percent chance of being beaten by her husband. Judy Lelumbe was 12 when she was forced to marry a 50-year-old man.

"He was beating me again," Lelumbe said. "So that's why I came again here and I say I decided now I cannot go back again."

Now three months pregnant, Judy already has two daughters. Her dream is that they will get the education she was denied as a child bride.

Umoja set up its own school where children receive a free education. Curiously for an all-women community, there are a lot of children around.

"It's a good life because as we believe if you don't have child, you are not a women," Lelumbe said. "It's allowed that young ladies like me to go and find you a boyfriend outside, but you cannot bring [them to] the village."

"So the boyfriend stays there and you can fall pregnant?" Patta asked.

"If I want a baby, I can go out to get," she said.

So it is the women who make all the decisions. They build their own homes, with woven twigs for walls, dried cow manure for the roof, and sell beautiful handmade beadwork — the money earned, shared equally. What is left is put away for emergencies.

When Lucy Larapora's 2-year-old son fell ill with malaria, that emergency fund meant she could take him to a clinic and buy life-saving medicine.

But Umoja provides so much more than financial stability. The village elders provide a sense of community and even fun. They are also there to help turn these young women into young mothers.

"Here it's OK because one mother can come and show you how to breastfeed. They come and show you what you have to eat. Everything," Larapora said.

Larapora grew up in Umoja. Her mother was a founding member. She got pregnant with a man outside the village but chose to live in Umoja. She wants her son Jeremy to break the cycle of bad Samburu men.

"I just encourage him to be a good man. Don't beat your wife. Don't give her some stress," Larapora said.

The women of Umoja don't have a lot — but they have each other. And that's enough to make sure no child goes hungry, and growing up, they never experience the torment their mothers went through.

It's fairly common across Africa for a community to help raise each other's children. In Umoja there can be between 50 to 100 kids living there. We all know it takes a village — that village is thriving as women turn the idea of community upside down by challenging traditional beliefs.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.