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Women's Movements

Autonomous And Affiliated Women's Movements In Nigeria

African women's organizations face the strategic question of whether to affiliate with governments and political parties or organize autonomously. In the postcolonial process of state formation in Africa, women's participation has often taken the form of women's auxiliaries of national political parties or umbrella organizations, supported by the state and composed of many local and regional groups. However, pointing to such autonomous women's movement organizations as Women in Nigeria (WIN), the Women's National Coalition (WNC) in South Africa, and Action for Development (ACFODE) in Uganda, Aili Mari Tripp (2000) argues that their autonomy has made it easier for members to work together across communal identities, which, in turn, has increased their effectiveness and led more women to see value in such forms of organization.

Before the British colonized the region in 1884, Yoruba and Igbo women in southern Nigeria had powerful political roles within dual-sex systems of female and male authority. Women were part of associations that were based on trade, age, and kinship. The Women's War of 1929, in which Igbo market women protested British taxation, is a notable example of women using their traditional power against colonial rulers. Grounded in their roles as mothers and provisioners of the family, women collectively defended their complementary sphere of authority within the extended family and wider community. Women's movement organizations in Nigeria continue to value the complementarity of women's and men's interests, an idea reflected in the strategy of Nigerian women's groups to demand reserved places for women in political offices (Okonjo 1997).

Before colonization, women's associations were formed within communal groups. In 1947, during the struggles against colonialism, the first national women's organization, the National Women's Union, was established, headed by Funimilayo Ransome-Kuti (Abdullah 1995). Since Nigeria's independence in 1960, most women's associations have continued to be tied to kin, ethnic, religious, or regional groups. Many are also members of women's coalitions, most importantly, the National Council of Women's Societies (NCWS).

WIN, established in 1982, is an exception in that it is an autonomous, national, and secular women's movement organization that eschews identification with any particular ethnic, regional, or religious group. It also accepts male members, thereby distinguishing itself from the traditional dual-sex approach to politics in which women operate within their own women-only organizations. WIN's independence has allowed it to openly criticize cuts in governmental social spending, mandated by international lending agencies' structural adjustment programs (SAPs). WIN has also taken up individual cases of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, and sex discrimination (Imam 1997).

NCWS, founded in 1958, includes more than 300 women's groups under its umbrella and provides some government support for their activities. Its priorities are to create more economic and political opportunities for women by promoting their education and training, legal equality in the public sphere, and proportional representation. Constrained by the necessity of developing consensual goals, NCWS has not addressed the issues of child custody, property rights, marriage, divorce, and sexuality. These are seen as too threatening to men's customary authority in the family and to Islamic law (sharia), governing family law and practice in northern Nigeria (Okonjo 1994). In Nigeria, where religious divisions have fanned the flames of civil war, NCWS's strategy is understandable. However, it means that leadership for change in familial customary and religious law has come from autonomous women's organization, Nigerian representatives of transnational nongovernmental organizations, and women's human rights' organizations.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesWomen's Movements - Feminist And Feminine Movements In Brazil, Civil Rights And Women's Movements In The United States