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The Labour of Our SHEroes Past – Let It Never Be In Vain

July 4th, 2024

by Ruhamah Ifere

As a young woman, I have been greatly inspired by three Nigerian SHEroes who fought gallantly for the rights of women, regardless of the opposition they faced. They each took up the responsibility for enabling other women and girls to achieve a shared purpose – Women’s voting rights, freedom from illegal tax, rights to Education, etc., and their advocacy was carried out under conditions of uncertainty.

Have the audacity, boldness and fearlessness to bring your own chair if there is no seat at the table.

Chervonne Risinamhodzi

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba holds the dubious distinction of being the most jailed Nigerian female politician. She served 16 prison sentences in the Nigerian cities of Zaria, Kano, Kaduna and Jos and was subjected to inhumane treatment as a woman.

Her fundamental Human rights were violated at will. She was stripped naked, given 80 lashes in Zaria central prison and her hair was shaved off with a broken bottle. In saner climes, Sawaba could have successfully sued the Government of the day and claimed damages, but this reality was far-fetched. According to reports, as a young girl, she had a fighting spirit, intervened in other children’s fights and came back home with torn dresses, a characteristic of one who had been heavily engaged in a battle. This led to her mother beginning to make her dresses from tarpaulin. It could be safe to say that her mother saw the signs of a freedom fighter and resorted to fate.

The name Sawaba, which means ‘Freedom’ or ‘Redemption’ was ascribed to her when she addressed a crowd on women’s voting rights, whilst they waited for a male leader who was supposed to speak to the crowd. For a woman, that was a brave thing to do and this also got the attention of the male leader whose name was ‘Sawaba’. He called her ‘Sawaba Female’ but she preferred ‘Sawaba’, and this became her identity.

Sawaba joined the Northern Elements progressive Union (NEPU) which supported “Women’s Education in both religious and secular spheres and their being given enough space politically and economically,” unlike the NPC (Northern People Congress) which didn’t see the need to support women.

She had a political mentor named “Mallam Aminu Kano” and was elected president general of NEPU’S Women’s Wing.

She advocated passionately against child marriage, forced and unpaid labour, unfair taxes and canvassed for jobs for women, education for girls and full voting rights.

Noteworthy is that Northern Women got enfranchisement in 1976.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, known as ‘Nigeria’s Lioness of Lisabi’ fought tirelessly to further women’s education and political representation.

She was a victim of racial discrimination and this bad experience made her change her Christian name “Frances Abigail” and fully embraced her indigenous name “Oluwafunmilayo” which means that God has brought Joy. This new identity brought hope and solace to the women in Egbaland.

In 1944, she founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (later the Abeokuta Women’s Union), and committed to defending women’s political, social and economic rights which became one of the most important women’s movements of the 20th century. The Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) was formed in 1946 to “defend, protect, preserve and promote the social, economic, cultural and political rights and interests of the women in Egbaland”. The aims and objectives were outlined in a document in 1947, called ‘The Awus Grievances’.

Funmilayo led a protest against the water rates and claimed victory in 1959. Extortion and abuse were rife. This was perpetuated by officials under the guise of performing their duties. It is even more absurd that girls as young as 15 years old, whether employed or not, were taxed, while their male counterparts were exempted until they attained the age of 18 years old. Those laws were repugnant to natural justice, equity and fairness. Year after year, women were unfairly treated and stripped off their fundamental human rights but Funmilayo remained determined to demand this freedom because Freedom is never given but demanded.

Her doggedness ruffled some feathers and this was made manifest through media headlines that disparaged her character and reputation. They cast aspersions on her movement and saw it as a revolution.

Funmilayo was the only woman in a seven-person delegation to travel to Britain to meet with British Colonial officials including the Secretary of State, Sir Arthur Creech Jones, to discuss the limitations of the 1946 Richards Constitution. This revealed the attention she was getting and the recognition of her advocacies despite the restrictions.

Margaret Ekpo

The awakening of Margaret Ekpo’s political consciousness took place suddenly, while she was representing her husband at a meeting. Her growing awareness about racial discrimination and the existing weight of oppressive colonial taxation further radicalised her.

She raised political awareness about Universal Adult suffrage, women’s Education and Independence from oppressive colonial rule.

In 1954, she formed the Aba Township Women’s Association (ATWA) and made moves to include other women in the Association. Notably, because of her bravery, she greatly inspired other women to begin to take up political positions.

One strategy Ekpo used to get more women into the Association was to purchase the bags of salt in Aba market, then control the sale of the commodity to members of ATWA. Any woman who wanted to purchase salt was required to register first. This move mobilised women under one major socio political body. She was able to deploy this strategy because of the scarcity of this essential commodity after the Second World War.

She also occupied positions that were male dominated. In 1961, she won the Eastern House of Assembly regional elections and also won in 1963. She agitated for Nigeria’s Independence. She won several National and International awards including the order of the Niger (OON) and Commander of the Order of the federal Republic (CFR).

She died on September 21, 2006 at the age of 92 and was buried in Hawkins cemetery, Calabar. The state government renamed Calabar Airport, the Margaret Ekpo International Airport.

Commitment

May the labour of our heroes past never be in vain.

Nigerian national anthem

It is 2024 and the rights of women and girls are still being threatened in the society. Whilst we acknowledge the victories achieved by our SHEroes, we cannot continue to ignore the fact that there is still more work to be done:

  • Create awareness on sexual gender-based violence against women and girls. There is an increasing rate of sexual abuse against women and girls and for the past three years, the Youth Evolve #Rethinkinggenderviolence has worked to address these issues through Advocacy and Awareness  workshops, webinars, Peace walks etc. in schools and communities. Youth Evolve has reached over 5000 young people in Africa and enlightened them about the need for the rights of women and girls to be protected, it’s relation to peace and sustainable development.
  • Promote Girl Child Education in Underserved Communities. Through strategic collaboration, access to quality and inclusive education can be secured.
  • Encourage more women’s Participation in Electoral processes. This can be achieved through the quota system and support of political parties system.
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About the author

Ruhamah Ifere

Ruhamah Ifere is a Community peacebuilder, Youth and Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, Gender Equality Activist based in Nigeria with a commitment to transforming the minds of young people to becoming Nation builders. She is the Founder of The Youth Evolve whose core beliefs is that young people can transform the planet as actors in the achievement of sustainable peace and Development.  She also volunteers with several youths and community led organisations in various roles.

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by Ruhamah Ifere

As a young woman, I have been greatly inspired by three Nigerian SHEroes who fought gallantly for the rights of women, regardless of the opposition they faced. They each took up the responsibility for enabling other women and girls to achieve a shared purpose – Women’s voting rights, freedom from illegal tax, rights to Education, etc., and their advocacy was carried out under conditions of uncertainty.

Have the audacity, boldness and fearlessness to bring your own chair if there is no seat at the table.

Chervonne Risinamhodzi

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba holds the dubious distinction of being the most jailed Nigerian female politician. She served 16 prison sentences in the Nigerian cities of Zaria, Kano, Kaduna and Jos and was subjected to inhumane treatment as a woman.

Her fundamental Human rights were violated at will. She was stripped naked, given 80 lashes in Zaria central prison and her hair was shaved off with a broken bottle. In saner climes, Sawaba could have successfully sued the Government of the day and claimed damages, but this reality was far-fetched. According to reports, as a young girl, she had a fighting spirit, intervened in other children’s fights and came back home with torn dresses, a characteristic of one who had been heavily engaged in a battle. This led to her mother beginning to make her dresses from tarpaulin. It could be safe to say that her mother saw the signs of a freedom fighter and resorted to fate.

The name Sawaba, which means ‘Freedom’ or ‘Redemption’ was ascribed to her when she addressed a crowd on women’s voting rights, whilst they waited for a male leader who was supposed to speak to the crowd. For a woman, that was a brave thing to do and this also got the attention of the male leader whose name was ‘Sawaba’. He called her ‘Sawaba Female’ but she preferred ‘Sawaba’, and this became her identity.

Sawaba joined the Northern Elements progressive Union (NEPU) which supported “Women’s Education in both religious and secular spheres and their being given enough space politically and economically,” unlike the NPC (Northern People Congress) which didn’t see the need to support women.

She had a political mentor named “Mallam Aminu Kano” and was elected president general of NEPU’S Women’s Wing.

She advocated passionately against child marriage, forced and unpaid labour, unfair taxes and canvassed for jobs for women, education for girls and full voting rights.

Noteworthy is that Northern Women got enfranchisement in 1976.

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, known as ‘Nigeria’s Lioness of Lisabi’ fought tirelessly to further women’s education and political representation.

She was a victim of racial discrimination and this bad experience made her change her Christian name “Frances Abigail” and fully embraced her indigenous name “Oluwafunmilayo” which means that God has brought Joy. This new identity brought hope and solace to the women in Egbaland.

In 1944, she founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (later the Abeokuta Women’s Union), and committed to defending women’s political, social and economic rights which became one of the most important women’s movements of the 20th century. The Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) was formed in 1946 to “defend, protect, preserve and promote the social, economic, cultural and political rights and interests of the women in Egbaland”. The aims and objectives were outlined in a document in 1947, called ‘The Awus Grievances’.

Funmilayo led a protest against the water rates and claimed victory in 1959. Extortion and abuse were rife. This was perpetuated by officials under the guise of performing their duties. It is even more absurd that girls as young as 15 years old, whether employed or not, were taxed, while their male counterparts were exempted until they attained the age of 18 years old. Those laws were repugnant to natural justice, equity and fairness. Year after year, women were unfairly treated and stripped off their fundamental human rights but Funmilayo remained determined to demand this freedom because Freedom is never given but demanded.

Her doggedness ruffled some feathers and this was made manifest through media headlines that disparaged her character and reputation. They cast aspersions on her movement and saw it as a revolution.

Funmilayo was the only woman in a seven-person delegation to travel to Britain to meet with British Colonial officials including the Secretary of State, Sir Arthur Creech Jones, to discuss the limitations of the 1946 Richards Constitution. This revealed the attention she was getting and the recognition of her advocacies despite the restrictions.

Margaret Ekpo

The awakening of Margaret Ekpo’s political consciousness took place suddenly, while she was representing her husband at a meeting. Her growing awareness about racial discrimination and the existing weight of oppressive colonial taxation further radicalised her.

She raised political awareness about Universal Adult suffrage, women’s Education and Independence from oppressive colonial rule.

In 1954, she formed the Aba Township Women’s Association (ATWA) and made moves to include other women in the Association. Notably, because of her bravery, she greatly inspired other women to begin to take up political positions.

One strategy Ekpo used to get more women into the Association was to purchase the bags of salt in Aba market, then control the sale of the commodity to members of ATWA. Any woman who wanted to purchase salt was required to register first. This move mobilised women under one major socio political body. She was able to deploy this strategy because of the scarcity of this essential commodity after the Second World War.

She also occupied positions that were male dominated. In 1961, she won the Eastern House of Assembly regional elections and also won in 1963. She agitated for Nigeria’s Independence. She won several National and International awards including the order of the Niger (OON) and Commander of the Order of the federal Republic (CFR).

She died on September 21, 2006 at the age of 92 and was buried in Hawkins cemetery, Calabar. The state government renamed Calabar Airport, the Margaret Ekpo International Airport.

Commitment

May the labour of our heroes past never be in vain.

Nigerian national anthem

It is 2024 and the rights of women and girls are still being threatened in the society. Whilst we acknowledge the victories achieved by our SHEroes, we cannot continue to ignore the fact that there is still more work to be done:

  • Create awareness on sexual gender-based violence against women and girls. There is an increasing rate of sexual abuse against women and girls and for the past three years, the Youth Evolve #Rethinkinggenderviolence has worked to address these issues through Advocacy and Awareness  workshops, webinars, Peace walks etc. in schools and communities. Youth Evolve has reached over 5000 young people in Africa and enlightened them about the need for the rights of women and girls to be protected, it’s relation to peace and sustainable development.
  • Promote Girl Child Education in Underserved Communities. Through strategic collaboration, access to quality and inclusive education can be secured.
  • Encourage more women’s Participation in Electoral processes. This can be achieved through the quota system and support of political parties system.