International Day of the Girl: Rebecca Lolosoli, thank you for being an iconic feminist icon

A close-up image of Rebeca Lolosoli
Feminism in a land of patriarchy

Girls everywhere are already changing the world. This Day Of The Girl (Oct 11) join us by giving a shout out or writing a letter to a girl who inspires you: a young leader, a family member, an influencer, your best friend or even yourself as a teen! 

"Dear Rebecca Lolosoli, 

My ultimate wish would be for this letter to reach you, to tell you in as close a personal capacity as I can through my letter - that you inspire millions of women like me. Women who live in cities you might not have even heard of. I came across your story on the internet. The article was titled no-men village in Africa and I was intrigued. I clicked upon the article and there you were in the picture with that bold confident warm smile and I had just found my ultimate feminist icon.

I read up every article and video that featured you and I just couldn’t have enough of your story. You preached feminism in a land that enforced patriarchy like the rule of law and yet you triumphed. Not just as an icon for gender equality, but as a human who won’t settle for anything else but what she deems fit, you are the kind of person I want to follow in the footsteps of.

You established the Umoja village in the Samburu County of Kenya. You are a revolutionary who started making goods and selling them to earn a living. You are a hero for raising the concern of rape cases in the village to a council that consisted solely of the beliefs of patriarchy at a time when even women’s rights were a mirage. “A girl in Samburu community has no right” is what they told you so you went out and created your own world with your own rules.

Gender inequality is the blemish of the 21st century, a remnant of the past that the tide of time should have long washed away. It’s easier for girls in urban places like me to fight for equal rights because we’re aware of them, we’ve read and known that misogyny is not normal.

And even if it is for society right now, it better change to the standards we hold it up to. But I cannot begin to imagine the kind of courage it would take to be a feminist in a land that had every law practically shouting out loud the ethos of patriarchy. It gives me goosebumps to think how your journey would have started, setting out to establish the world that did justice to all that you believe in. Especially when you had no resources, no support, no precedence to create what you had already started visualising in your dreams. You see, Rebeca, you’re not just an advocate for gender rights, you aspire humanity to a whole another level. Your journey made me realise the human potential we harbour within, the miracles we can create if only we choose to see that light within us. 

After the men in your community could not bear the thought of a woman creating her own livelihood and your husband refused to support you against your abusers, you didn’t hesitate in forsaking a society that didn’t deserve you. You were faced with a challenge, a terrible crisis and you had two options . First, to accept it as fate, something which the society expected of you, even demanded from you.

Second, a completely unprecedented route, a way that would shun you out of the place you had called home since forever. The path that led you to leave and create a better world for yourself and women like you who were treated harshly, abused and deprived of all rights. You transformed not just your life but those of a hundred other girls. You made them realise that they deserved kindness and respect and nothing less. You inspired similar villages in your state and the world saw what a passionate force for justice could achieve. You opened a school for the education of children, you created a livelihood for all the women of Umoja and inspired them to earn a living by creating souvenirs and jewellery for the tourists who passed by. The men of your community made several attacks on your village but you defended it with grace. Not all heroes wear capes, some just wear a bold smile and a kind look in their eyes and a fire in their heart so strong that it forces a whole society to change its orthodox ways.

You inspire me, Rebecca, to be the change I so desperately want to see in this society. It pains me to realise that millions of young girls in my country drop out of school when their menstrual cycle begins, that marital rape isn’t considered illegal in my country, that the concept of consent loses all its value under the brand of marriage, that violence and abuse directed at women is still high.

This is not the society I want to settle for. I do not want my daughter to grow up in such a society. And as much as I hold the society guilty for ingraining in young girls the inhibitions and restrictions to fit in the patriarchal mould, I realise that I am a part of this society too. It is by that virtue alone, that I must show it its truth and force it to face it. If I do not go out there and create a constructive change in the society, perhaps I am as much to blame for my silence as the ones who openly preach sexism.

You’ve inspired me to raise my voice and talk about the issues of our society. If they tell me to hush about periods because it’s such a stigma, I’m going to take a loudspeaker and spread awareness about it. When they tell me to speak softly to behave like a proper lady, I’m going to speak my mind out no matter how rebellious it is. And when I’m instructed not to wear short clothes because that means I’m inviting harassment, I’m going to fight back and flaunt my body in whatever I deem fit.

You didn’t sit back and nod obediently when they told you to accept injustice, how can I not follow in the footsteps of the icon I’ve long since idolised. I’m going to change the society, Rebecca - I’m going to start with my community and make sure the echoes vibrate worldwide. I’m going to start with a ripple in the ocean and I’m sure waves will follow suit. And one day, I hope our stories unite in this fight for gender equality. I hope we both smile from opposite corners of the globe when we see a world that has normalised gender equality.

Your lovingly,

Malvika Dangwal."


"We don't want to be cut anymore, we want to be equal.
Rebecca Lolosoli on the practice of genital mutilation in the Samburu community.
Illustration by Ina Gouveia @inagouveia