Feminism in Nigeria – using Aba Women Riot as a Case Study
Concepts and ideologies are always different based on the culture of a place. Just like feminism, there are so many ideologies that have been brought into the African world. And when they came, they met a different culture and thrived differently.
Most people will say the idea of homosexuality, feminism, realism, narcissism, and other ideologies were brought from the European world to corrupt Africa. That would be an understatement. In all honesty, it would be undermining the diversity of Africa.
Feminism in Nigeria did not start with women wearing mini-skirts. It did not start with women refusing to cook or clean, it did not start with women ignoring gender roles. Saying feminism started with the mainstream idea of what it is, is wrong.
The feminism that fights against gender oppression, equity, the equal opportunity did not start with modern women. And the feminism that had been practiced in Africa did not promote hatred of men.
In Nigerian history, women have been part of the political decision-making in some regions. The Yoruba culture had the Iyalode – a woman meant to represent women in the palace. She is as powerful if not stronger than other chiefs, e.g. the Iyalode of Ibadan.
The Yoruba also have the Iyaloja – a woman in charge of markets and the sellers. Men are under her administration.
The Igbos placed women to be the ones in charge of the financial, social, and economic survival of the Umunna. It is a patriarchal system but still allows women responsibilities.
Total patriarchy in Nigeria, which can be said to have given birth to modern feminism, began with European intervention, especially in 1929.
In 1927, the colonial government introduced measures to enforce the Native Revenue Ordinance. W. E. Hunt, a colonial residence, was chosen by the lieutenant governor of Nigeria, to explain it to Nigerians of the eastern region.
After this, Direct Taxation followed. It was a tax implemented on men. And there was no major incident of revolt from the men.
In 1929, Captain J. Cool was to take over administration from Mr. Weir till he comes back from leave in November. Cook discovered some inadequacies with the rolls for taxation. It did not include women, children, and livestock.
Cook announced his plans to do the nominal roll for taxation one more time. And by October 24, 1929, counting began again.
The women feared that the counting might lead to them paying taxes. That was what happened before their husbands began paying taxes. And these women are weary from the taxes they were helping their husbands to pay.
The incident that led to the demonstration of over 10,000 Aba women was sparked by an encounter between Mark Emereuwa (male, warrant chief) and Nwanyeruwa (female, market woman).
With the women not given political positions, the federal government already agreed that there would be no taxation system enforced on the women. But when the counting began, most women understood it to be “bring out all your properties. Let’s know the amount and tax you base on it.”
Nwanyeruwa was one of such women who understood it to be so. And as a widow, she felt no responsibility for paying taxes. When Mark Emereuwa approached her for counting, she asked him if his widowed mother paid taxes. This angered Mark. And he choked her. She went on to report to other market women, and that led to the Aba Women Riot.
Nwanyeruwa didn’t allow her stuff to be counted because she knew traditional Igbo society did not collect taxes from women. So feminism isn’t a new concept in Africa. There were patriarchal societies, but they were societies that believed in gender roles also.