During colonial times, a significant uprising occurred in Yoruba land, specifically in Abeokuta. It was an unusual occurrence for women to be involved in decision-making processes during that era. This took place a few years after the well-known Adubi war, in 1945. The movement began as the Abeokuta Ladies’ Club, later renamed the Abeokuta Women’s Club in 1946, with prominent founders such as Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Grace Soyinka.
The club had women from all walks of life, including traders, farmers, Muslims, Christians, aiming to raise awareness of their rights, especially those denied to them, such as education. The objective was to empower women politically and socially, building a generation of politically independent and conscious women. The club effectively sowed the seeds of anti-colonialism among local women, leading them to protest against unjust taxation.
The colonial government’s taxation policies, administered by the Ogboni society, were oppressive, requiring women to start paying taxes from the age of 15, whether they had a source of income or not. They were each expected to remit 2shillings and 6pence.
Despite resistance, the taxes increased, and this sparked anger in the women leading to a sit-down protest in front of the Alake palace with over 10,000 women present in November 1947. The protest, which was initially about taxes, evolved into a larger plea against the adverse effects of colonial rule on women’s lives.
The women’s leaders were arrested, and their demands, including fair taxation, equal representation, transparency in tax usage, and women’s education, were defended in court. Their actions were labeled as “the Women’s Revolt” by colonial rulers in mockery which resulted in trivialization of their cause. However, this did not deter them in any way but rather took an unexpected turn when they performed the male-exclusive ‘ORO’ rite, shaming the men and compelling authorities to address their concerns.
The success of this movement led to the transformation of the group into the Nigerian Women Union, marking a significant achievement in their quest for rights and dignity.
This is quite relatable to present day activism and feminism. In Africa, these women’s fighting for rights to anything was unheard of and deemed an abomination and many believed it was borrowed from westerners. In a way we can that, because they fueled it through colonialism but history has shown over time that women have always stood up to defend and fight for their rights in one ways of the other and the other. We now have many women actively working in government and influencing decisions in many countries of the world