Feminism in Nigeria didn’t just start today, in fact, the history of feminism in Africa’s largest country can be traced back to colonial history.
Feminism is “the belief in social, economic and political equality of the sexes”. Feminism first began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing and addressing issues concerning women’s suffrage. However, over the years, the debate widened to accommodate social and cultural inequalities, gender norms, and women’s roles in society.
In recent times, feminists have fought and advocated for women’s inclusion in spaces where they had been previously marginalised. Due to the impact of feminism, cultures are rapidly adapting, gender roles are being redefined, and women now have access to a lot more opportunities than their predecessors ever had.
History of Feminism in Nigeria
It is quite a popular notion amongst Nigerians that feminism is a western construct, and hence, Nigerian feminists are only trying to “join the bandwagon”. Not only is this notion flawed, but it is also false.
Feminism in Nigeria is not a 21st-century concept. Early feminism movements in Nigeria dates as far back as 1929 with the Aba women’s riot. What was tagged as a rebellion of errant women was really a fight for inclusion. The riot started around November 1929 when women from Bende district, Umuahia, and other parts of Eastern Nigerian travelled to Oloko to protest against the excesses of Warrant Chiefs, who were exploiting the market women and restricting the role of women and participation in government. Although there are a lot of arguments about the rationale behind the revolt, the Aba women’s riot was a pacesetter for feminism in Nigeria.
Another important event in the history of feminism in Nigeria was the Abeokuta’s women’s revolt. In the late 1940s, Abeokuta women came together to protest against the unfair tax imposed by the colonial government. Led by Funmilayo-Ransome Kuti, the Abeokuta women’s union spearheaded this protest. The women cried that colonialism reduced their roles in the economy while taxes kept increasing. Eventually, the protests paid off, as four women were given seats at the local council, and the taxes were removed. Although these events were not directly related to feminism, they defined and created the platform and foundation on which modern Nigerian feminism currently stands on.
Common Misconceptions about Feminism in Nigeria
Feminism strictly calls for an equal society with a goal to achieve the political, economic, and social equality of all genders. However, for a concept that has proven to be solely about women empowerment and encouraging women to find their place in the society, misconceptions about feminism have begun to take root in the minds of many.
These misconceptions of feminism often start from the assumptions that feminists are bitter women who have been slighted by men and have also grown to include an unfortunate stereotype that feminism has no place in religion. Hence if you consider yourself to being religious, you cannot be a feminist.
In reality, these misconceptions can be merely described as failing attempts by the patriarchal society to keep women subservient. Patriarchy has reigned from time immemorial, failing, however, to produce a much better society; feminism, on the other hand, has brought about a much more deserved change, building confidence in most women and encouraging them to go the extra mile in demanding for change.
The Impact of Feminism on 21st Century Nigerian Women
As a Nigerian woman, one question you might ask is, “what has feminism done for me?”
The answer to this question is simply put a lot. With more focus being placed on girl child education, an increased number of women political office holders, and more women-friendly laws have been passed into the constitution; you hold more importance as a woman in Nigeria today than you would have in the past.
In Nigeria today, the voices of feminists like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can not go unheard. This is due to the significant impact they have made with their voices, speaking up and constantly challenging the status quo. The days where women were perceived to be weak and incapable are gone. Women like the members of the Feminist Coalition have shown that when competent women are at the forefront, the job is definitely going to be done. In 2020, during the #Endsars protests that took place all around Nigeria, the members of the feminist coalition, FK Abudu, Jola Ayeye, Moe Odele, amongst others, helped provide healthcare, legal aid, including compensation to the families who were affected by the rogue unit, SARS.
In the creative industry, a lot has changed in the way women are represented. Writers like Ayobami Adebayo and Chimamanda Adichie are constantly capturing stories that resonate with Nigerian women, telling their stories without erasing their plights and woes.
In business, Nigerian women have set out as groundbreakers, creating history and forming new stories, a great example being Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s recent appointment as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
In all entirety, Nigerian feminists are advocating for change, initiating conversations on social media, creating spaces where women can co-exist safely, are accorded the same respect and decency, and have access to opportunities as their male counterparts.
There is still a long way to go for feminism in Nigeria; there are a lot of problems to address, like child marriage in the north, Female genital mutilation, and many more. However, these women have so far done an amazing job.
Although there is an existing argument as to what the impact of e-feminism has, the fact remains that it constantly brings up conversations centred around women. That is an impact that should not be erased. There is so much more visibility for women now, thanks to these conversations.
Kudos to those women who set the pace and paved the way that true equality may be achieved one day.