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It takes a village! 3 women-only villages around the world

In October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland tightened the existing abortion laws even further. As a result series of protests were organized known as the Women Strike. During the demonstrations, thousands of women chanted slogans about the need for solidarity, mutual help, and sisterhood.

Recently that need seems to be only increasing, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing lockdowns contributed to the escalation of domestic violence [1]. Moreover, some countries decide to withdraw from the laws and conventions created with the aim of women’s rights protection [2,3]. Faced with the lack of policies protecting them from violence and discrimination, many women tend to seek unofficial support networks, either online or in their communities.

But what can be done if such networks do not exist? An idea is to build them yourself from scratch. Sometimes even literally! Discover the history of women-only villages in Kenya, Egypt and Syria. 

Umoja means unity

Umoja (from suahili: unity) is a village located in the Samburu county in Kenya. It might look just like many others in the area. However, it has one unique characteristic: no men are allowed inside. Umoja was founded in 1999 by Rebecca Lolosoli, a women’s rights activist from the Samburu tribe, with the help of fourteen other women.

The founders had one common experience – all of them had been raped by British soldiers and as a consequence, excluded and exiled from their families and communities [4]. Currently Umoja is a safe refuge for women who had escaped domestic violence, female genital mutilation, rape, or child marriage.

“I don’t want to ever leave this supportive community of women. We don’t have much, but in Umoja I have everything I need.” – says Mary, Umoja’s resident. When she was 16, she was sold to an 80 year old man in exchange for a herd of cows. [5]

The women of Umoja earn their living by running a campsite for tourists and by selling traditional, handmade jewellery. The members of the community highly value education. Therefore, a few years ago a school was established on Umoja territory. Ever since, it has been opened to children also from the neighbouring villages. But education is a fundamental value not only for kids. The residents of Umoja have the goal of raising awareness of the risks of female genital mutilation and child marriage to all women from the Samburu county [6].

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Currently, the women are expecting the Kenyan government to provide them with an official land ownership title. That would protect them from potential conflicts over territory and water access.

Widows and divorcees only!

The Egyptian village Al Samaha, located in the Aswan Governorate, was not a bottom-up initiative. It was created in 1998 by the Ministry of Agriculture, specially for divorced women and widows, in order to provide them with a source of income [8]. Many Egyptian women still struggle with claiming their right to inheritance after their husbands’ death. The unstable situation on the labour market, combined with frequent lack of experience or education, makes it almost impossible for many women to independently earn a decent living for themselves and their children [9].

In Al Samaha, the government provides women with plots of land and furnished houses. Residents are able to pay off the costs of housing due to the profit made from agriculture, tending cattle and selling handicrafts. With time, Al Samaha became a shelter for the victims of domestic abuse seeking safety for their kids and themselves. The community is protected by the local police and specially assigned guards [10].

“Each woman living here has her own problems that seem insurmountable, but when we discuss them, we discover that our problems are lighter than those of other women.” – says Nabiha Abdullah, Al Samaha resident [11].

Women in need who finally find a safe place to live and a supportive community feel relieved. However, after some time many of them decide to move out. Main reason for such a choice is heavy physical labour they have to endure in Al Samaha. Furtheremore, there is no access to secondary schools or public transport in the area. Getting married or wanting to live with adult sons are another reasons for leaving.

Al Samaha is a space strictly reserved for women. Consequently, when boys reach the age of adulthood, they are obliged to move out.

Non-violent fight against patriarchal mentality

Jinwar, a community in North-eastern Syria, is the youngest village of the above mentioned. It was officially opened on November 25th, 2018, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women [12].

That feminist community was created by a group of activists with a few principles on their minds: democracy, ecology, peace, and diversity. Just like Umoja and Al Samaha, Jinwar keeps its gates open for all victims of abuse and widows with children. It also welcomes women wanting to escape from a capitalist and patriarchal society, regardless of their faith or ethnicity.

The commune consists of around fifty buildings. Apart from the houses, built by the residents, there is also a school, community garden, playground, library, bakery, and natural health centre [13].

Of a big importance is one unique place – the Jinwar academy. At the academy women can teach and learn from each other subjects such as Jineolog – the Kurdish branch of social science close to feminism [14] or the production of cosmetics and natural medications from local herbs.

“Every mother has a story full of hardships and pain, but the village makes them forget all their worries because we are all here together.” – says Fatima, Jinwar resident, mother of six daughters, a widow whose husband had died fighting ISIS forces [13].

Solidarity is a fundamental value for women of Jinwar. The community members are responsible not only for the upkeep of the village but also for each other. Living in the commune should help women and their children to develop independent personalities as well as teach them how to resolve conflicts and overcome daily issues or hardships [15].

The residents of Jinwar believe that their lifestyle should not be limited only to the Kurds in Rojava. It should be extended to the whole territory of united Syria and be an inspiration to all women everywhere.

Find your strength in solidarity and education

Stories of women’s villages may seem inspiring and exciting, but it is not satiscatory. Bulding more women-only spaces is not the best solution to the issue of violence against women. Peace cannot be achieved by creating barriers or segregating people. And safety, as well as protection from violence, should not be limited to secluded communes, but guaranteed to all humans.

Yet, the residents of the villages can teach us some important lessons. Firstly, we can observe the solidarity and strength coming from mutual help and support. Secondly, we see how important it is to create safe spaces for victims of abuse. Finally they can share their experiences and emotional harm without any fear of being judged or discredited.

Another point would be the significance of education. In every women’s village there is a school for children and a place for women to develop by acquiring new skills. In the future those skills can be passed on to others, even outside of their communities. Independent and accessible education has the power to change lives and build strong fellowship. One community surely cannot solve all of the world’s inequalities. It can, however, become a true inspiration and lay foundations for activism, life-long education, and real social change.

Sources:

[1] Académie nationale de médecine, Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic violence 

[2] Laura Maksimowicz, SalamLab.pl, Turcja: tuż po wypowiedzeniu Konwencji Stambulskiej zamordowano 6 kobiet

[3] Gazetaprawna.pl, Wypowiedzenie konwencji stambulskiej. Projekt skierowany do pracy w komisjach

[4] Ervin Dyer, NBC News, In Kenya’s Umoja Village, a Sisterhood Preserves the Past, Prepares the Future

[5] Julie Bindel, The Guardian, The village where men are banned

[6] Umoja women – strona oficjalna

[7] Dominic Kirui, Globalcitizen.org, How an Extraordinary Women-Only Village Is Inspiring Land Equality in Rural Kenya

[8] Al Arabiya English, A women-only village in Egypt where no men are allowed

[9] Al-Monitor, Meet the women of Egypt’s all-female village

[10] Nour Eltigani, Egyptian Streets, Al Samaha: The Upper Egyptian Village Where No Man is Allowed

[11] Ahmed Megahid, The Arab Weekly, It takes a village in Egypt to show women’s heroism

[12] JM Lopez, ABC News, Jinwar, the Middle East’s first feminist commune for Arab, Kurdish, and Yazidi victims of Islamic State

[13] Kenneth R. Rosen, Washington Institute, Jinwar Women’s Village: Carving a Progressive Enclave Amid Syria’s Civil War

[14] Zîlan Diyar, Jineoloji.org, What is Jineolojî?

[15] Amargî Lêgerin, Komun Academy, Jinwar: Inspiration for women everywhere in the world

Materiały wideo godne uwagi:

Umoja:

http://www.umoja-film.com/index-en.php

Jinwar:

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Data wpisu do ewidencji: 17.11.2021 r.

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