Samburu women are among the most marginalized groups in Kenya. Development has been
slow to reach the area and education is often not easily accessible. Furthermore, women have a low status
in the community and are the last to receive the few resources available. Within this context, many women
are subject to severe mistreatment by their husbands. Faced with continual abuse, these women opt to
leave their husbands. Another example of the discrimination and ill-treatment that Samburu women have
faced is the alleged rape of approximately 1,400 Samburu women during the 1980s and 1990s by British
soldiers from training bases in the area. Many of these women were subsequently shunned by their
husbands. Whether they leave their husbands or are abandoned by them, the women are left as sole
providers for themselves and their children.
In 1990, 15 women formed and registered the Umoja Uaso Women's Group with the then Ministry of Culture,
Heritage and Social Services to address these issues. They started by selling beadwork and other goods.
After facing threats from men jealous of their success, the members decided to found a women-only village
and reside together, thus providing collective security and cooperation. The group also dedicated itself
to informing women about their rights, their health (for example, by encouraging pregnant Umoja residents
to receive prenatal care), and helped them start income-generating activities. Last, Umoja cooperated
with UK human rights lawyer Martyn Day to have the rape cases investigated and brought to trial. These
investigations are ongoing.
As the group's members prospered, more and more women joined. UUWG now has 48 members, and continues
to strive to achieve its goals.