African women making change
Margaret Ekpo, Activist, Feminist
Margaret Ekpo (1914-2006) was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and social mobilizer who was a pioneering female politician in the country’s First Republic and was a leading member of a class of traditional Nigerian women activists, many of whom rallied women beyond notions of ethnic solidarity. She played major roles as a grassroot and nationalist politician in the Eastern Nigerian city of Aba, in the era of an hierarchical and male dominated movement towards independence, with her rise not the least helped by the socialization of women’s role into that of helpmates or appendages to the careers of males.
Margaret Ekpo’s awareness of growing movements for civil rights for women around the world prodded her into demanding the same for the women in her country and to fight the discriminatory and oppressive political and civil role colonialism played in the subjugation of women. She felt that women abroad including those in Britain, were already fighting for civil rights and had more voice in political and civil matters than their counterparts in Nigeria. She later joined the decolonization leading National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, as a platform to represent a marginalized group. In 1953, she was nominated by the N.C.N.C. to the regional House of Chiefs and in 1954, she established the Aba Township Women’s Association. As leader of the new market group, she was able to garner the trust of a large amount of women in the township and turn it into a political pressure group. By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a city wide election.
She won a seat into the Eastern Regional House of Assembly in 1961. A position that allowed her to fight for issues affecting women at the time. In particular, were issues on the progress of women in economic and political matters, especially in the areas of transportation around major roads leading to markets and rural transportation in general.
After a military coup ended the First Republic, she took a less prominent approach to politics. In 2001, the Calabar Airport was named after her.
Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian feminist writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist. She has written many books on the subject of women in Islam, paying particular attention to the practice of female genital mutilation in her society.
In 1972 she published Al-Mar’a wa Al-Jins (Woman and Sex), confronting and contextualising various aggressions perpetrated against women’s bodies, including female circumcision, which became a foundational text of second-wave feminism. As a consequence of the book as well as her political activities, Saadawi was dismissed from her position at the Ministry of Health.
From 1979 to 1980 she was the United Nations Advisor for the Women’s Programme in Africa and the Middle East.
Long viewed as controversial and dangerous by the Egyptian government, Saadawi was imprisoned in September 1981, along with many other objectors to the Jerusalem Peace Treaty, by President Anwar al-Sadat. She was released later that year, one month after his assassination. Of her experience she wrote: “Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies.”
In 1988, when her life was threatened by Islamists and political persecution, Saadawi was forced to flee Egypt. She accepted an offer to teach at Duke University’s Asian and African Languages Department. In 1996, she moved back to Egypt.
She has continued her activism and considered running in the 2005 Egyptian presidential election, before stepping out due to stringent requirements for first-time candidates.
She was among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011. She has called for the abolition of religious instruction in the Egyptian schools.