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Women's revolt transformed Nigeria, says historian

Judith Byfield

New research by Judith Byfield, associate professor of history, offers a different lens through which to understand women’s political history in post-World War II Nigeria. She discussed her findings at a crowded Tuesdays with Faculty Lunch hosted by the Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program in Rockefeller Hall March 21.

Byfield’s talk, “Gender, Spectacle and Nation-making in Post-World War II Nigeria,” focused on the famous Abeokuta women's tax revolt in 1947. The revolt was a response to a tax increase imposed by the British government after World War II.

Women in the rest of Nigeria did not have to pay taxes – a way of reinforcing patriarchy, according to Byfield. “The tax policies became a way of crafting social policies in the colonies,” she said.

But because of the indigo dye industry and other factors, the women in Abeokuta were so well-off that the British required them to pay taxes, too. As the British policies became more repressive and unreasonable, the women began to organize, led by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. According to Byfield, their revolt was ultimately so successful it toppled the king of Abeokuta and changed British policy, triggering a “radical transformation of the political structure in Abeokuta” and women’s politics more broadly.”

Byfield’s essay on her research, “In Her Own Words: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the Auto/biography of an Archive” was recently published in Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International.

Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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