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.