Political and Women’s Rights Activist
In the mid-1940s, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti emerged as one of the strongest voices for Nigerian women. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the financially strapped British colonial powers then occupying the country were imposing taxes on the market women of Nigeria. In the city of Abeokuta, in southwestern Nigeria, the women faced new quotas and random confiscations of their goods, enforced by the British-backed alake, or king of the town. Ransome-Kuti, then an instructor at Abeokuta Grammar School, was paying close attention. She began organizing the town’s market women, many of whom were already her students and planned mass demonstrations – some saw close to 10,000 participants – under the banner of the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU). In 1949, under mounting pressure, the alake abdicated and the tax on women was revised.
What began as a local effort soon became a national movement. The AWU was renamed the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) in 1949, and chapters were founded in cities across the country, with membership reaching 20,000 women at its peak. A natural leader and an eloquent speaker, Ransome-Kuti travelled frequently to rouse groups of women into action. Often, she was working to develop chapters of the NWU. In ‘A Talk About Women’, likely from 1949, she speaks directly to the parents of girls, asking them to provide their daughters with the same education they would offer their sons. (Ransome-Kuti herself was the mother of three sons – including the Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti – and one daughter.) She went on to participate in the Nigerian independence movement, remaining a forceful advocate for woman until her death in 1978.
A Talk About Women c. 1949
How beautiful would it be if our women could have the same opportunity with men. A parent who had means to educate a child would rather educate his or her son, because he believed he would be receiving big salary when he had left school and took up a job.…. The parent’s poor daughters are neglected and left uneducated because the parent felt that whatever education she was given would be unprofitable and would all end in the kitchen. This sort of feeling which had existed for quite a long time was responsible for the state on women today. These poor girls eventually become relegated to the background, enslaved, enfeebled, uneducated, ignorant and absolutely silenced and suppressed in obscurity. They are overworked and underfed, yet they don’t complain, because they are unconcious of their right. A wife is never a companion but a slave. As there is no country that can rise above her womenfolk, I am therefore appealing to the parents in this little article to give their daughters equal opportunity with their sons. I am also appealing to the men to please rally round and cooperate with women to redeem then from their present status. I am also saying to the women that “It is never too late to mend”, “Rome was never built in a day”. We women who are in the background today may be in the lime light tomorrow.
But the women too should strive to acquire knowledge in anything, from everywhere and anybody. They should try to take the best from all that comes their way…. There is such a lot of work before us, before we can take our place efficiently side by side with other women of the world, socially educationally, economically and so on, and pleased God, we shall.