A Feminist and Activist: Funmilayo Ransome Kuti

In honor of black History month (February – Both Men and women ) and Women’s History Month (March- Women Only), the Involvement Newspaper will be featuring African leaders,heroes ,activists in a bid to remember their contributions towards a better Africa.

By Evelyne Syombua


Thumbnail Photo Courtesy Pinterest.com

Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was a teacher, political campaigner and was involved in women’s rights activism and traditional aristocrat . She was seen as the doyenne of female rights in Nigeria, gaining her the moniker “Lioness of Lisabi” for her political activism.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, original name Frances Abigail Olufunmilayo Thomas, also called Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti was born on October 25, 1900, Abeokuta, Egbaland [now in Nigeria]. She was born to Yoruba parents (Chief Daniel Olumeyuwa Thomas (a returned slave) and Lucretia Phyllis Omoyeni Adeosolu of the Jibolu-Taiwo family)who were were Christians. She attended Abeokuta Grammar School (a secondary school), from 1914 to 1917 in which she was the first female.

 She taught briefly at the school after which she studied in England (1919–23), where she dropped her English names and shortened her Yoruba name to Funmilayo and she discovered socialism and anti-colonialism.When she resumed teaching at Abeokuta, she married Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a clergyman and teacher, in 1925. She was the first African woman to drive a car.

Having being brought up by parents who valued education, she became associated with some of the most important anti-colonial educational movements in Nigeria and West Africa, and fought tirelessly to further women’s access to education and political representation. In reaction to the racism she encountered in Britain, she dropped her Christian name, Frances Abigail by the time of her return.

Her career in feminist activism begun in 1932 when she founded the Abeokuta Ladies Club (ALC). Membership was mostly Western-educated and working-class women and she expanded it in 1944 to include market women. In 1946 the ALC became the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU), and membership was expanded for it to begin working against injustice and the exploitation of market women.

Lioness of Lisabi :Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. Photo Courtesy of eplangelibrary.wordpress.com

At first, the AWU campaigned  against price controls, which drastically limited the incomes of market women, and for fair treatment of market women by the government. The union also protested a special tax on women imposed by the local ruler, Sir Ladapo Ademola II. As from 1947 the organization led large demonstrations against Ademola’s government, which led to his temporary abdication in 1949.Greater educational opportunities for women and girls, the enforcement of sanitary regulations, and the provision of health care and other social services for women were among the union’s broader goals.Raising living standards for women and ultimately eliminating the causes of poverty was Ransome-Kuti’s intention to pursue these activities.

Over 100,000 Abeokuta women worked together to provide social welfare services and to pursue a gender-conscious agenda. The AWU expanded to the Nigerian Women’s Union (NWU) in 1949 a national organization and became known at the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies (FNWS) in 1953.The FNWS was dedicated to addressing the concerns of all Nigerian women and improving their position in society, including education, suffrage, health care, and other social services.

She also served several terms on the local council of Abeokuta between 1949 and 1960. Though unsuccessful, she ran for a seat in 1951 in the regional assembly as the candidate of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which she had helped found in 1944. The FNWS became associated with the Women’s International Democratic Federation, in 1953 and Ransome-Kuti was elected a vice president of the organization. After which she subsequently lectured in several countries on the conditions of Nigerian women. In 1959, she ran for the assembly as an independent candidate, after the NCNC rejected her bid for a second candidacy , This led to the splitting of the NCNC vote and ensured the opposing party’s victory.

The consequences for her action were expulsion from the NCNC and she formed her own party, the Commoners’ People’s Party, which was disbanded one year later. By collapsing of her CPP party one year later, her political influence in Nigeria and her following among women in Abeokuta had declined significantly.

For her to feel like she belonged to the Yoruba Culture, she changed her surname to Anikulapo-Kuti in the early 1970s . The family property in Lagos ,which Fela had transformed into a commune that he called the Kalakuta Republic, was stormed by 1,000 soldiers in 1977. She was dragged by her hair and thrown out a second-story window by the soldiers during the assault.  She died of complications from her injuries the following year.

“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a pioneering nationalist who fought against British colonialism and a cultural nationalist…a pioneer African feminist and a human rights activist who was tireless in her campaigns for women’s rights and for economic, political, and social justice. She was an educator who gave a voice to the voiceless and education to the uneducated.” – Oxford Dictionary of African Biography.


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