03.06.11

Women in the World: Rebecca Lolosoli, Kenya

When Rebecca Lolosoli began to speak up on behalf of women raped by British soldiers, four men came to her home in Kenya and beat her. Her husband, who had bought her for 17 cows, failed to object, so she left him and began to openly defy a tribal system in which women were not allowed to own livestock or land or go to school. Lolosoli persuaded women in her village to start a business selling their intricate traditional beadwork to tourists. Then she encouraged them to form a separate village as both a tourist attraction and a refuge for victims of domestic violence and girls fleeing female genital mutilation or forced marriage. That is where Diane von Furstenberg found her in 2009, when she asked Vital Voices to introduce her to talented women artisans. Smitten with the colorful beadwork, she invited Lolosoli to collaborate on her 2010 collection. Over time the women's village, named Umoja, which means "unity" in Swahili, has earned enough money to buy its own land and open a nursery school.