Georgina Goodwin photographs the village where men are banned

Kenyan photographer Georgina Goodwin captures the stories of women who have found refuge in the matriarchal village of Umoja after surviving sexual violence.

Arriving in the single-sexed village of Umoja in Kenya for an assignment, award-winning photojournalist Georgina Goodwin was enthralled by the different energy, calm, focus and emptiness of not having men around. For almost two decades, it has been a safe haven for women who have stood up against the patriarchal traditions of the Samburu, an ethnic group in the North of Kenya. The opportunity to document this story arrived when British online news publication The Guardian approached her.

Grasping the sensitivity of the task she had to complete over two days with writer Julie Bindel, Goodwin set out to gain the trust of the women and children whose stories would be known all over the world. Most of her visit was peaceful, speaking to the calmness and safety that its inhabitants feel – a right that was unknown to them in their lives before Umoja. In her photography, she set out to get the light and colour just right to uncover the depth and emotions hidden in their lives.

Today 47 women and 200 children live in the village that was founded by rape survivors. Once she had gained individual permission to take photographs of the women and children, Goodwin was swept away by what had brought them there. “Each woman has an incredible story,” she expresses. She heard the accounts of girls who escaped their hometowns when they refused to be circumcised or forced into marriage at a tender age. Others were denied the right to earn their own money or make decisions for themselves and found freedom, support and a sisterhood at their new home. 

On a normal day, they would collect firewood and water from the Uaso Nyiro River a kilometre away in the searing midday heat. “I learned more about patience from the way they work at their beading, patiently attend to their children and work with each other,” says Goodwin.

In 2007 and 2008 Goodwin’s lens was focussed on post-election violence in her country, one of the assignments that she describes as “deeply intense, confusing and graphic”. Next on her agenda is teaching courses in photojournalism with the Aga Khan University in Pakistan and mentoring young women through the Women of the World Talk & Act initiative as a creative African businesswoman.

It’s evident in her online portfolio that her camera has followed her around the world, fixed on people and scenarios that she has learned from and reminding her of the strength and beauty of humanity. One of the lessons she has taken away from Umoja is that “until your body dies or your mind goes elsewhere, there is always hope”.