The commencement of the 21st century #MeToo era ushered in a newfound importance for conversations surrounding gender equality and women’s rights in modern society. However at the knolls of Mount Kenya, where the foothills blend into the boundless African desert, exists a small unassuming village that has been championing women empowerment since the 1990s. The village, called Umoja, gained international attention for establishing an all-female matriarch village with no men. Consisting of women from the Samburu tribe, Umoja’s uniqueness is not limited to its exclusivity. Intent on achieving independence from outdated patriarchy, its women have found an unlikely ally in fashion as a means to sustain their community.
The story of Umoja and its resilience has reflected ideals of fervour, fashion and feminism. Here are key takeaways from the inspiring story of Umoja - a much-needed reminder for embracing optimism, creativity and the power of the woman.
The Strength of Entrepreneurship
The remarkably enterprising women of Umoja have ensured the survival and success of the village through their craftsmanship. They have successfully achieved financial independence by selling extraordinary hand-crafted jewellery to countless tourists. The self-made business of creating unique bijouterie has been Umoja’s lifeline. Not only has it secured its survival but also divorced itself from the toxicity of male oppression. Brightly-coloured beaded necklaces, a trademark for Samburu women, has highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit and resilience at the back of hardships and challenges.
The Beauty of Going Local
Recent support for local businesses and neighbourhood communities has helped spark entrepreneurial minds into action. By trusting the beauty of going local, we promote livelihoods and changes that go beyond simply purchasing an item. Such is the case with Umoja’s jewellery business, which serves as a reminder for the risks being taken by these women and the importance of carrying their cause. With tourists supporting their craftsmanship, Umojan women have been able to showcase their local identity on a global scale, allowing them to spread their powerful message of female empowerment.
The Power of Native Fashion
Umoja’s identity is not limited to selling ornaments, but extends to the bold apparel and mien of its women. Upon arrival, guests are welcomed by the singing and dancing of women adorned in a sea of striking colours. They don a traditional look of patterned skirts, vibrant shirts and kanga (a colourful printed wrap) on their shoulders, embellished with beaded necklaces arrayed in exquisite circular patterns. The world’s leading fashion powerhouses have often taken inspiration from similar styles - an ode to remarkable native apparel. The incorporation of motifs belonging to indigenous communities has provided a platform to exhibit the beauty and significance of cultural diversity in fashion.
Championing Women Empowerment
At the end of the day, the creation of Umoja is a memorable nod to the importance of supporting women. The collective strength of its female residents surpasses any obstacles hindering the growth of their village, serving as an example to women hailing from all backgrounds. Umoja, which means ‘unity’ in Swahili, has exemplified how prosperity can stem from the smallest ideas and hopes, if tied together with the right kind of support and perseverance.