Fern Holland Award, 2010
Rebecca Lolosoli is the matriarch of Umoja Village, an all women’s community located in the Samburu District of Kenya. She founded the village in 1991 to support women and girls, orphans and widows – those who were facing social and economic difficulties and had been abandoned by their families, or were fleeing domestic violence, forced marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM). They had no land, no guarantee of human rights, and no protection under the law. Often, they were victimized over and over as they lived on the streets, vulnerable to continued violence and maltreatment. Rebecca saw the need to gather these women together and work collectively to find strategies for survival, and to begin to change the way families and communities in Samburu treat women.
With the help of other women, Rebecca has been able to provide a safe haven for the women in her community who have been tortured, beaten, and raped. What started in 1991 as a group of 16 raped women, denounced and outcast by their families, on a patch of sun-dried, neglected land granted to them by the Kenyan government at the behest of Rebecca, is today a unique group of 50 flourishing, happy women and girls, orphans and widows, and even a few beloved goats. Despite repeated threats and attacks from men of neighboring villages, Rebecca continues to work for women’ s rights. Her goal is to curb violence against women and the negative cultural practices that are harmful to women’s health, safety and well-being.
She has also been instrumental in improving the economic situation of the women in her community. Through the trainings received locally and internationally she has educated the women of Umoja in business and craft skills. The Samburu women of Umoja are now able to provide for their children and themselves through the sale of their beadwork to the tourists visiting the nearby Samburu National Reserve.
Rebecca has also served as the chairperson for her local chapter of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization, a national empowerment and development organization for women. She has attended various local and international workshops and seminars on indigenous people, women and human rights in the US, South Africa and Europe, which have given her the opportunity to raise awareness of issues facing not just the women of Samburu, but women across Africa.