African women have traditionally used their bodies as a form of protest for generations. Many have used the threat or actual act of nakedness/undress as a form of effective political protest for centuries. In Nigeria for instance, most believe that their mother's bodies are to be revered. As such, it is taboo for a woman, and particularly a married or older woman, to choose to disrobe in reaction to a social/political situation. In the 1930s, members and supporters of the Abeokuta Women's Union walked naked in protest of the Alake of Abeokuta's political actions and forced him into exile. In 2001, a team of scientists abandoned their research after naked Kenyan women descended on their facility. Similarly, in 2006, female South African prisoners staged a setshwetla - naked protest - to prevent their relocation to another prison facility.
NAKED PROTEST IN ADO EKITI
This peaceful method of protest has most recently been used by the women of Ado Ekiti in Nigeria to protest the recent local political elections. The elections, which were a rerun after faulty elections in 2007, concluded without the results being released and with antics from officials suggesting an attempt to thwart the democratic will of the people. The naked women, who were mostly older women, and hundreds of others, took to the streets to challenge the delay in releasing results from the election. Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding this election continues as the elections are still yet to be released, even after a week, and updates from people in Ekiti suggest that politicians are being arrested while the young and old, male and female, naked and clothed take to the streets demanding democracy.
A SAD NECESSITY
It is unfortunate that these women had to resort to this traditional taboo in order to have their opinions heard. However, their protest is crucial for the entrenchment of democratic principles because it fulfills a crucial aspect of democracy - the people voicing their opinion in an effort to affect political outcomes. Far too often, Nigerians complain but their concerns are ignored because those in control can simply ignore the people. But, when the people take to the streets peacefully and strongly express their demands, desires or disappointments, Nigeria's leadership will be forced to listen, even though they might not immediately give in to the people. Most importantly, such protest will act as a cautionary warning that impacts future attempts by 'leaders' to circumvent and subvert the will of the people.
KENYAN WOMEN, SEX & POLITICS
But, if the women of Ekiti and indeed the women of Africa are interested in other forms of peaceful protest, they need only look to Kenya where women's groups have instituted a "sex ban". These groups believe that the wives of Kenya's political elite can effectively influence their husbands to end ongoing political infighting which threatens that country. The wife of Kenya's Prime Minister has also signed on to the ban and women's groups will even pay prostitutes to turn down clients. This is another way that women are using the importance of the female body to send a political message. While I support the 'sex ban', I encourage any other group that will use this technique to ensure that they also find the 'mistresses' whose participation in such a protest would be important, as well.
Ultimately, a confluence of tradition, socio-economic realities and other factors have given African women unique means by which to carry out political protest and hopefully effect change. Considering the various troubling situations on the continent, African women might have to step up the use of these and other specific tools to get their voices heard. It will be interesting to see what tactics women across the continent will use to express their concerns.
 Allman, J. E., Fashioning Africa: Power And The Politics Of Dress: Indiana University Press, 2004, 43
Also check out Akin's post "When women rage with the pudenda and the paps", which reviews the Ekiti situation, women's role in protest and other related issues.
* For an unedited view of this picture and other pictures from the Ekiti protest, please visit Jeremy's Naijablog.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Our Mothers Are Protesting - Naked (2007)
- I Think Nigeria Needs A Revolution
- Putting A Nigerian Revolution in Context
- The Nigerian Psyche
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- International Women's Day: Women's Health