TWENTY years ago, she was not known outside her village in Kenya and now Rebecca Lolosoli is invited to speak internationally about Umoja Village, an all women village that she founded in the Samburu District of Kenya.
It all began in the late 1990s when Rebecca spoke out on behalf of some women who had been raped, after which a group of men came to her home and beat her up.
She subsequently left her husband and began to go against their tribal system which denied women the right to own land, livestock or attend school.
She encouraged and organised other women to begin a bead working project in a village where girls and women could seek refuge from abuse.
The Umoja Village Community Centre is now home to 50 women who produce beadwork that is being sold as far as the United States.
It is also a tourist attraction and is visited by people seeking to learn how such a community is possible.
The women have since bought their own land and established a nursery school.
This was one of the stories told in New York City, the venue for the path-breaking Women in the World Summit 2011 arranged and hosted in March by Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
Reading through the list of the 150 women participants (www.thedailybeast.com) I couldn’t help thinking that the net could have been cast wider.
In total 47 countries were represented, which is just a quarter of all the countries in the world.
This was because the United States was heavily represented with 62 women including Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie and Condoleezza Rice.
African women were nominated from 12 countries including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, with some like Kenya having three women attending.
Many countries including Canada didn’t have any women at the conference.
However, this women’s event was a private sector initiative, which is not common and it must be commended.
I was inspired by the diversity of activities some of the women in Africa are pursuing. Solar Sister is an entrepreneurial venture of Ugandan Eva Walusimbi, which offers women training and support to create solar micro-businesses.
Zambian-born, Dambisa Moyo, who holds a PhD in Economics from Oxford, authored Dead Aid, a book that takes a critical look at aid funding for Africa.
Her next book How the West was Lost: 50 years of Economic Folly — Stark choices ahead, is due out this year.
Kakenya Centre for Excellence, a school for girls is what Kakenya Ntaiya decided to establish in Kenya after obtaining a doctorate in education from the United States.
She herself was engaged to marry at the age of five and would have faced genital mutilation in later years but luckily managed to avoid all this by negotiating with her father.
The stories are many and they make interesting reading. It is clear this was more than a story telling event.
It was important for the women to meet and network with powerful individuals who could support their causes.
There were big names among the invited audience including Bill Clinton and it is reported that an amount of US$100 000 was pledged to different women over the three-day summit.
The aim of the conference was for the women to not only tell their stories but to also provide solutions to the problems facing women and children around the world.
A poll of participants and the online community on what women want more of revealed that “support” is what is required.
This could be in the form of mentoring, compassion and support systems created for women, by women.
I am convinced there are untold stories of local women making a difference in their communities, just as worthy as those cited above.
If you know of any, let me know via email. I look forward to the day when Lesotho is also represented at the Women in the World Summit. — firstname.lastname@example.org