Nigeria in Focus

Nigeria in Focus

Women Working Collectively for Change

Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Since then, the country has lived through a series of corrupt governments and military coups. Given these unstable circumstances, Nigeria's women have had to work outside the system in order to get things done and ensure their rights.

George Osodi
With over 130 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with over 250 ethnic groups. Nigerian women's rights vary by their ethnicity, religion and location. Women in the predominantly Christian South earned the right to vote and stand for election in 1958, but those in the Muslim North had to wait 20 more years. Rights vary by socioeconomic status as well. Poor communities control few resources, while the wealthy in big cities often make decisions that govern the whole country.

Many Nigerian women have decided the most practical strategy for change is to work together with other women. For example, Yoruba women of Western Nigeria have made independent livings as traders for generations. Today, they exercise their power in women's market associations. They influence local public policy, and more recently, pool their money to support leaders who are accountable to their needs.

In northern Nigeria, many Muslim women of the Hausa or Fulani tribes still live under purdah. Confined to their homes, they are only allowed only to interact with male family members or other women. Still, they invoke the Islamic commitment to education by organizing to ensure their daughters' schooling.

In contrast, the Igbo community in Southern Nigeria traditionally employed a "dual-sex" system, in which men and women each managed their own affairs. Igbo women lost much of their power under colonial rule, but since independence, some of the old system is returning. Omus, or community women's leaders, have formed women's cooperatives that administer social services at local levels.

Nigeria's resourceful women are examples of what is possible in difficult political circumstances. Achieving formal political power is an ongoing challenge -- one that is on the horizon.

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