International Women’s Day: Nigerian Women In Focus

Image via Orient Daily

The month of March every year is dedicated to celebrate women globally with March 8th being set aside to celebrate women all over the world. The International Women’s Day (IWD) was set on March 8th after the IWD was held on that day in Germany in 1914 with the day being dedicated to women’s right to vote which German women did not win until 1918.

Moreover, women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1971 and March 8th became their national holiday. The day was predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted by the United Nations. Today, it is a public holiday in more than 100 countries, some of which include: Burkina Faso, China, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Belarus, Cuba and several other countries.

Since its adoption by the United Nations, the body, since 1996, has been creating a theme for its celebration every year. The theme for 2019 is: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”.

Although, the IWD is not an official public holiday in Nigeria, Nigerian women have always been in the forefront of the fight for equal social, economic and political rights for women not only in Nigeria but in Africa at large.

In this week’s edition of Lifestyle, we will be taking a trip down memory lane on our chequered history where Nigerian women fought for their rights and spearheaded some movements. We will also be looking at women who, through hard work and discipline, broke glass ceilings, getting to top positions in male-dominated fields and careers.

The Aba women’s riot: In November 1929, Igbo women from Bende District, Umuahia and other places in Eastern Nigeria, travelled to the town of Oloko in Aba to protest against the Warrant Chiefs and taxation of women who were accused of restricting the role of women in the government. The protest encompassed women from six ethnic groups – Ibibio, Andoni, Ogini, Bonny, Opobo and Igbo and was a strategically executed anti-colonial revolt organised by women to redress social, political and economic grievances. Many Warrant Chiefs were forced to resign as a result of these riots. We salute these brave women who used their voices to speak up against injustice and oppression.

Margaret Ekpo: was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and social mobiliser who was a pioneering female politician in the country’s First Republic and a leading member of a class of traditional Nigerian womenactivists. She played major roles as a grassroots and nationalist politician in the Eastern Nigeria city of Aba, in the era of a hierarchical and male-dominated movement towards independence. She is credited with organising a Market Women’s Association in Aba to unionise market women in the city. She used the association to promote women solidarity as a platform to fight for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansion of political rights for women. She won a seat to the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961, a position that allowed her to fight for issues affecting women at the time. I salute this great Amazon for her dedication to improving the economic and political lot of women in her time.

Abeokuta women’s protest: This protest took place in 1948 and was organised by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who was, at the time, a school teacher who when she heard of the struggles of the market women who were heavily tasked by the Alake with support from the British residents, informed her decision to form the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU). The union was an explicitly political organisation uniting the working-class market and middle-class women to challenge both colonial rule and the patriarchal structure. Due to the pressure from the group under the leadership of Madam Kuti, the Alake eventually abdicated his throne, the taxing system for market women was reviewed and four women had positions in the new system of administration. Mrs. Ransome-Kuti would go on to be both a political leader and a titled chieftain while the Abeokuta women’s union would be noted as one of the pro-nationalist feminist activist groups in the country.

Buchi Emecheta: The name, Buchi Emecheta must ring a bell if you ever went through a Nigerian secondary school. You must have read one of her books for English literature; the most popular of them is ‘Joys of Motherhood’. Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta was a Nigerian novelist based in the UK as far back as 1962. She began writing about her experiences of black British life in a regular column in The New Statesman; a collection of these writings later became her first published book in 1972 titled ‘in the ditch’. Her books were very successful and received several awards and accolades from all over the world including the Jock Campbell Award, appeared on the list of 20 best of young British novelists and she was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to literature. Most of her fictional works are focused on sexual discrimination and racial prejudice informed by her own experience as both a single parent and a black woman living in the United Kingdom. I salute this literary giant who, through her stories, inspired a whole generation of women that they have the power to decide the course of their lives and be very successful at whatever they set to do in their hearts.

Flora Nwakpa: Flora Nwazuruahu Nkiru Nwapa was a Nigerian author who has been called the mother of modern literature. She was the forerunner to a generation of African women fighters and was also acknowledged as the first African woman novelist to be published in the English language in Britain. She achieved international recognition with her first novel ‘Efuru’ which was published in 1966 at the age of 30. She is best known for recreating life and traditions from the Igbo woman’s viewpoint which she promoted through her literary works. She was also one of the first women publishers when she found Tana Press in 1974 which was described as “the first press run by a woman and targeted at a large female audience, a project well ahead of its time at a period when no one saw African women as consulting a community of readers or a book-buying demographic. She also found the Flora Nwapa Company, publishing her own adult and children’s literature as well as works by other writers. She was also known for her work in reconstruction after the Biafra war during which she particularly worked with orphans and refugees. She was also a civil servant who worked with the ministry of education as an educationist and went on to occupy several high placed positions in the education sector. She was made Ogbuefi in 1978 which is no small feat in a paternalistic society like Nigeria where some men looked upon women as objects of subjugation. But, with Flora Nwapa, even men doffed their feathered hats and gave her the salutes she deserved. I salute this educationist for using her platform to inform and educate women all over the world, especially feminists, about the role of women in Nigeria, their economic independence, their relationship with their husbands, children, their traditional beliefs and their status in the community as a whole.” Thank you for inspiring courage in the next generation of women and fearlessly going into male-dominated spaces and making a name for yourself. You are an inspiration. Bravo!!!

That’s all I can take for this week… keep a date next weekend as I will be taking a look at women who are currently blazing trails and making history in their different careers.

Happy International Women’s Day to all amazing women out there. Have a great weekend!