Years before the second-wave of feminism began to take shape in the West, there was a woman making activist waves in Nigeria. If you were lucky to catch the Fela! Play on Broadway then you have already been introduced to Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, mother of late Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and a prolific woman nationalist and representative of the feminist cause in her country and internationally.

Kuti’s heritage can be traced back to her great grandmother Sarah Taiwo, also known as the ‘Lioness of Lisabi’, a title stemming from her escape from slavery and an assertiveness with which she influenced her community in Abeokuta in western Nigeria.

Given this background it was perhaps a natural evolution that Kuti herself would develop into an activist whose life circled around the struggle for suffrage and equal rights for women.

Her feminism and democratic socialism lead to the creation of The Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) and later Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), organisations and movements through which Kuti campaigned for women’s rights to education, employment and political participation.

She became successful in many of her missions. For example, when the king, Alake Ademola of Egbaland, wanted to impose taxes on women, Kuti and the AWU clan went to protest using the slogan, ‘No taxation without representation.’

As unequal members of society they strongly opposed paying taxes until the injustices were rectified. As the women protested outside the king’s house, they sang in Yoruba:

“Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.”

Their unified actions resulted in the king’s abdication.

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  • folasade

    Awesomeness (and yes, I know that’s not a word)! She rocks :)

  • Kam

    Thanks for writing this article. I did not know about her.

  • a daughter of yemonya

    Posts such as this as well as so many others are why I really enjoy this website. I have shared it with several of my friends and family members!!! Thank you for bringing into the forefront some powerful leaders from Africa, so that we as African/Black (however folks may like it) Americans can begin to see that we have much more in common than just the color of our skin. Our family collectively are fans and admirers of the Anikulapo-Kuti family/legacy. When I was pregnant with our second baby we attended Femi’s concert in ATL and I promise the baby was dancing up a storm.

    This story is a wonderful example of the strength and determination of the African woman.

    Thank you once again.

  • funmi elesho

    Thanks for the article on Funmilayo Ransome -Kuti, I think such women should be celebrated especially on International Women’s Day. She was an achiever.