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Growing up in Nigeria, we were told oversimplified stories of unimportant facts like, that this great woman was the first Nigerian woman to drive a car. Her radical acts of defiance against colonial oppression and persistent fight against the subjugation of women were omitted from these narrations.
Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a Nigerian educator, political campaigner, suffragist, and women’s rights activist. She was at the forefront of Nigerian women’s assault against colonialism and anti-colonial movements across West Africa. She founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union, one of the most significant women’s organisations of the 20th-century whose membership was estimated to have reached up to 20,000 women. She fought for the furtherance of women’s access to education and political representation; the economic rights of market women; the provision of healthcare and social services for women and, the general financial liberation of Nigerian Women.
Funmilayo was the first female student at Abeokuta Grammar School and she went on to teach at the school for a brief stint before leaving for England. In England, she dropped her English name and adopted the shortened version of her Yoruba name, Funmilayo. She married Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican clergyman and teacher and had children who also made lasting impacts on Nigerian history in their various spheres of life.
Her work made her realise the dynamics of class struggles in the fight for the liberation of women. Ransome-Kuti acknowledged the privilege meted to her by birth and noted that “The true position of Nigerian women had to be judged from the women who carried babies on their backs and farmed from sunrise to sunset … not women who used tea, sugar, and flour for breakfast.” Funmilayo remains one of the most iconic feminists in West African history.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was also part of a delegation led by Nnamdi Azikiwe that sought constitutional reforms in a meeting with the colonial secretary at the colonial office in London. Their goal was for the colonial government to consult with Africans about changes to the Nigerian constitution and to put more Nigerians at the helm of Nigerian affairs.
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s activism served as the antecedent for many formative revolutionary movements that favoured Nigerian women and contributed to the struggle for our liberation.