Monday, May 4, 2009

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.[1] 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.

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.

From Naijablog *

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.

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.

[1] 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

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13 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Sugabelly said...

So I think you should have left the pictures unblurred to fully deliver the power of the act, but hey.

Either way, Ekiti deserves it. Maurice Iwu and INEC are obviously colluding with the PDP to withhold the results in order to give them time to alter the election results. The whole thing stinks.

I only believe that MORE women should have protested naked. There were only about seven women who actually were. ALL the women in that crowd should have been half-naked to show their disgust for Ekiti politics.

Nigeria can't continue doing this. Not now.

LoloBloggs said...

I was so inspired by these women, not only because they got up to do something about this disgusting situation (the levels of corruption are still so blatant for all to's embarrasing and disappointing), but because its testament of the power of femininity.

Only female nakedness can create shame in others like this, and the nakedness of our mothers, women of dignity and experience makes it worse.

The Kenyan women are also inspiring, a sex ban is a huge deal to our African men, but it's a symbollic act, who can police what happens between a man and his wife in the bedroom?

Either way as women we should understand that we represent mother, and we can do more to kick these male (and female) children into check.

Akin said...


I found so much research material for a similarly topical blog I wrote where female nudity and sexuality in creating political change, economic change & social change in Africa is quite prevalent.

Also, whilst you acknowledge that you got the picture from NaijaBlog, they have been doctored and maybe you should have mentioned that was done for the sake of your sensitive audience.

But I do agree with Sugabelly, what your words say are probably more potent than the picture that has been censored.



Adaeze said...

I admire these women so much. I respect them so much. Their bravery makes me proud of being a woman. Peaceful demonstration and protests is the way to go, and I wish everyone would do it more.

L-VII said...

I was rather pleased and saddened when I saw those pictures, I mean, why is it that the protesting is left to the older women in the state, what happened to youth who has so carelessly sold their voices for a few nairas?

Again, what is most interesting about this whole Ekiti saga is that for the first time in as long as I have been interested in Nigerian politics, women or a particular women can make a tangible difference, from the REC to the information minister, for some reason though, I am not very hopeful.

A very good read, thank you.


Jennifer A. said...

It is a shame that the women had to resort to this...


@ Sugabelly: Yes, i considered not editing the pics, but only briefly. The practice is 'taboo' and still an abomination, can't shake that. Besides, anyone who wants to see the unedited version is provided a link to Jeremy's great blog. I just didn't want the pic to distract from the discussion which could happen maybe now, but sometime in the future...

Anyway, I couldn't agree more with you assessment of the Ekiti situation. It stinks - something is fishy and it is a shame that this President, so concerned with the rule of law, sanctions this obvious thwarting of democracy. IT has happened, again, under his watch and with him doing what appears to once again be nothing. Well, we shall see when the people get tired of being taken for granted. Thanks for swinging by, my sista.

And BTW, you raise a good question that we should all wonder - why didn't more women do this?

@ Lolobloggs: Like you I am very interested in the peaceful ways women can effect change. I think it is about time women, collaborating with like-minded men, of course, started to take matters into their hands. It will be interesting to see how Nigerians and other Africans effectively create the change they seek. We just have to think outside the box and sometimes, the result isn't that much. Thanks so much for joining the discussion.

@ Akin: First off, thanks for sharing that you wrote on a similar topic. Will find it and add it for other readers to take a look at.

I will also put up a note specifying that I edited the pic but it is available unedited at Jeremy's. Thanks for the suggestion.

Hope all is well.

@ Adaeze: I agree with you. These women, and importantly others like them during history, definitely illustrate that peaceful, strategic protest can be effective. I can only hope that all of us, men and women, start thinking of the many tools available to us in this day and age and use them to our advantage in effecting the change we seek.

Thanks so much for swinging by!

@ LVII: Although I focused on these women and the female body in political protest, there were many young men and women who took to the streets in Ekiti. People are definitely talking about this issue and reacting on television (there are some Youtube clips, showing discussions on AIT), in newspapers, online and of course, on the streets.

I feel that the issue is whether enough of us will 'react' to force change. Only time will tell.

Women have historically played significant roles in political change in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. However, I understand your concerns about the ability of certain Nigerian women to do some good. The ones we see - Akunyuli, Waziri - they could shock us, no? Um, I can't believe I just said that, but I am certain of one thing. The many nameless, faceless women who are trying to make things better will indeed succeed. We all just have to help them, and others like them (regardless of sex) out when the opportunity presents itself.

@ Jaycee: my sista, a shame indeed. Hope all is well.

N.I.M.M.O said...

The sad part is that these women, who should be in 'peaceful retirement' were dragged out to be part of this protest. They were probably part of similar protests in the old Ondo state of 1983.

As L-VII points out, the younger men and women have probably gone to collect their pay from those who say politics is a 'do or die' affair but their own children are far from the scene of action.

With our 'westernised' view of the female body nowadays, I sincerely doubt if this means of protest will remain effective for very much longer.

Our women would rather pose nude for Vogue or Playboy than as a means of political protest.

Afterall, why can't the men too go nude?

Unknown said...

Sigh! I try to stay away from politics, but I always find myself back in it somehow. Especially Nigerian politics. I have been reading about this issue, and while I'm proud of what these women are standing for and echo the comments above, a side of me is also saddened that these women have to result to this to have their voices heard. The power of sex, huh? There's no way to say this delicately, but this is rather degrading.

In re the Kenyan women, kudos on the "sex ban" and let's just hope that the mistresses and prostitutes play along/comply. I don't know how successful this will be in Nigeria - if at all. Due to poverty/economy, Nigerian women (both young and old) are in desperate need. The ones in Uni get paid for sex all the time, so banning sex means eradicating their source of income and having the education paid for. It's a catch 22.

I hope and pray that women across Africa can come up with other ways of influencing politics rather than subjecting to the above to gain attention. After all, a woman's body is her temple, right?

Akin said...

Hello SolomonS,

Thanks for referencing my blog in your post.


I think you miss the significance of this in Africa by seeing only a Western perspective to this and reaching a supposed conclusion of its eventual ineffectiveness.

Female nudity for the West is more erotism, that is hardly the case in non-Western cultures and even where religion pollutes some of long held customs as Taliban atrocities or Wahabist control of female expression.

The references in the blogs show that these kinds of protests even affected the colonial rulers who could easily have ignored the social disruption.

I do not think Western views can obliterate completely through influence and exposure the significance of these protests.

And male nudity has never been a taboo or a thing of rage, it has always been a thing of shame - you effectively neutralised your views :-)



wellsbaba said...

this desperate act of nude protest shows how much the people want to be heard and hopefully have their way....what gladdens me most is that we are now getting the message-not ignoring our civic responsibilities.both young and OLD(who should really not b interestd n just sit back n chill at home)protested! We r gettin there.....

STAN said...

But does it really have an effect? Am sorry to say That a group of women marching naked in protest for a few minutes in an age of nudity,will barely have an effect apart from in the circle of social commentators. Their courage is commendable but change will take more than that.

As for the kenyan women,can they efectively monitor what hapens in the bedroom. I dont think the call for abstinence would be heeded to by a good chunk of the women. And that is the sensible thing because for couples,sex is not and must never be used as a protest tool. Some things are sacred.

NneomaMD said...

i meant to comment on this some time ago, but i have been in hiding.

personally, I am not such a big fan of the use of the female body/sexuality as a form of political protest - although i am sensitive to need of these women to express their frustrations. i can't help but think that if the female body/sexuality is found to be a valid expression of protest, then it equally remains a valid target to be suppressed, abused, regulated etc.

For centuries, rape and femnicide have been used as weapons of war....and although many might see nude protests or sex bans as a more positive spin on the use of the female body i still think that in the Kenyan and Ado Ekiti cases we are taking the female body and using it as a pawn in political/social discourse. If the female body is a valid form of protest, what is to stop the regulation of this form of protest or its criminalization (as we saw in afghanistan). Forgive me for being so sensitive, but I think both Kenyan and Nigerian examples serve to bolster the objectification of women...

Is it just that I have not yet received the memo that the power of a woman lies primarily in her body or sexual services?

I had seriously meant to blog about this (seriously, it still remains on my ever-growing to do list).....but these days, i am just feeling indifferent....overwhelmed....

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