Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti: a heroine for all

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a Nigerian politician born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1900. She played a key role in ensuring that Nigerians had a greater role in their own affairs, and she set up the Abeokuta Women’s Union, a political organisation of women which united to fight injustices under colonialism. The AWU membership cards were signed by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti under the title Iya Egbe, which means the ‘Mother of the Society.’ She was at the head of women’s rights in Nigeria, and was even the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car!

WHAT DID ABEOKOUTA’S WOMEN’S UNION ACHIEVE?

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti achieved many very important social victories for Nigeria, for example resisting the food-quotas and price-controls imposed on the market women of Abeokuta by the Colonial Administration during the Second World War. These controls were placed on the market women so that the Colonial Administration could make up for food shortages in the army. The Abeokuta Women’s Union also protested against the corruption of the traditional rulers when the Alake took advantage of these food-quotas and requisitions by increasing them for his own gain. This was very unfair on the market sellers as they were unable to turn a profit, creating financial hardship for both themselves and their families, especially given the heavy taxation. But, under Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the Abeokuta Women’s Union appealed against the confiscations demanded by the Alake, and they ended!

From 1947 onwards, the Abeokuta Women’s Union led huge demonstrations against the government of Ademola II. Ademola II took advantage of his position and the British support he received by stealing taxes and forcibly taking lands. Ademola II placed a tax on women which was unfair because they had to pay the tax separately from their husbands. In addition to this, girls had to pay tax from the age of 15 whilst boys only had to pay tax from the age of 16. Not only did the women have to pay this tax regardless of their income, but women did not have the right to vote and therefore they did not have any representation in the government. The Abeokuta Women’s Union began a campaign against the Alake which publicly started with a petition, however the Alake simply increased the taxes the women had to pay, making the hardships they faced even worse. The leaders of the Abeokuta Women’s Union refused to pay taxes along with many others, and in 1947 Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was imprisoned for this very reason.

This did not stop the movement she started, and sit-ins and demonstrations increased. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti inspired mass demonstrations which involved many thousands of Nigerians uniting against the unfair treatment they were subjected to! In April 1948, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti again refused to pay her taxes. This time the whole community reacted, with men speaking up about their desire to help the women in the name of happiness, freedom from oppression and peace in the region. Finally, in the following January, the Alake abdicated and the unfair tax on women was abolished. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was appointed to a new council, allowing women to be represented in the government at last.

HOW DOES WHAT SHE DID IMPACT TODAY?

Funmilayo Ransome Kuti’s work as the leader of the Abeokuta Women’s Union has had many lasting effects; the very fact that women have the vote in Nigeria is thanks to the progress made by the AWU. Recently, there has even been a successful campaign to have her image put onto the 5000 Naira note!

ZARA ARIF

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