The Nexus of Queer rights and Feminist Movements in Nigeria

Emitomo Tobi Nimisire
5 min readNov 3, 2022
Feminist As F*ck T-shirt

I facilitated a consultative meeting with Nigerian LBQTI (lesbian, bisexual, questioning, transgender, and intersex) rightsholders for two days at the beginning of this week. This meeting’s objectives were to inform participants about SOGIESC, bodily autonomy, the intersection of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and queer rights issues, and create a three-year action plan that would address the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of this population.

As I recall the enjoyable time I spent with these individuals, I find myself wondering once more why they are the target of such animosity due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). I also recall the debates between two different feminist groups — inclusive and trans-exclusive — that I have seen both online and offline.

The first is a group of feminists who support the liberation of women and queer people — including transgender people — from the oppression of patriarchy and queerphobia, and the second supports the first group’s political views up until the inclusion of transgender people.

I decided to explain why I am a feminist who advocates for an end to oppression against women and queer people, including transgender people.

History of Feminist Organizing in Nigeria

Liberation from oppressive systems is the foundation of feminist organizing in Nigeria. The 1929 Aba women’s march against colonial financial policies in south-eastern Nigeria is one of the earliest instances. This movement is the basis of African nationalism — a revolt against imperialism through abolitionism.

By recognizing that newly imposed special taxes would adversely affect the economic security of market women in addition to disrupting the supply of food in their region, the Women’s War epitomized a fundamental feminist principle, that the personal is political.

As a result of the gathering of nearly 25,000 women and the fatalities (at least 50 women were killed and another 50 injured) that ensued, colonial authorities abandoned their plans to tax market women and appointed women to the Native Court system.

Intersectionality

In Nigeria, queer liberation and feminism are both movements that challenge the oppression, repression, discrimination, exploitation, and subjugation of people as a result of their gender identity and/or sexuality. If feminists agree that women are primarily oppressed due to their gender, gender identity, and sex characteristics, then it ought to be simple to draw parallels between this form of oppression and that which queer people experience due to their gender and sexual orientation, and that which trans people experience due to the fact that their gender identity and expression differ from their sex characteristics. Under patriarchy, gender and sexual norms impose restrictions on women, and when they disobey them, they are violently “corrected” and/or punished.

Under patriarchy, gender and sexual norms impose restrictions on women, and when they disobey them, they are violently “corrected” and/or punished.

In simple terms, here is what I mean (these examples may be triggering):

  1. X has female sex characteristics and identifies as a woman. When her husband is angry with her, he frequently beats her. Because she is a woman and must be more submissive, and because she has children to take care of, her family advises X to stay in this relationship. Due to her gender identity and the associated gender norms that society and her family have forced upon her, X continues to be in an abusive marriage.
  2. A has female sex characteristics from birth. A is expected to act and behave like a woman. A steps outside of the norm of a woman dating a man (heterosexuality) and dates women. In order to make A “straight,” she is raped as a form of correction. Summarily, person A is in despair because she is a woman who stepped outside of gender and sexual norms.
  3. T was born with male sex characteristics. T identifies as a transwoman. T is lynched for being trans. In conclusion, T was killed because she defied gender expectations.

In 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe how systems of oppression overlap to create distinct experiences for people with multiple identity categories. The term has since evolved in its usage, to contextualize how the identities of women influence the inequalities they experience, as steered by cisheteropatriachy, a system of power and control that positions cis-heterosexual white males as superior and normative in their expression of gender and sexuality.

As opposed to the first and second waves of feminism, which were predominantly dominated by white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual women, the third wave of feminism emphasizes inclusivity by acknowledging the limitations and violence caused by the sex/gender binary and its consequences for those who do not conform to the stereotyped sex and gender roles that maintain these binaries in equilibrium, and that submission and dominance are the social dynamics that govern these binaries.

Injustice and inequality of every kind are an expression of power or a symptom of power structures (Srilatha Batliwala). In All About Power, Srilatha explained that we need to be able to change power equations effectively by understanding the various places where power operates so that we can challenge power structures that thrive on inequalities and where it is unsafe to be female or to not conform to the social dynamics of sex/gender binaries.

In her book, All about Love, bell hooks writes, “Until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems of domination and recognize specific ways each system is maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and the collective liberation struggle.”

Taking into account the fact that gender is a social construct (i.e., a product of a socio-historical process) with dynamics that predispose people to certain situations that may be harmful, as well as their sexuality being affirmed or demonized, intersectional feminism argues for women’s freedom from multiple, interlocking oppressions that work together (race, class, and gender-based oppression along with sexuality-based oppression).

African/Nigerian Feminist Principles and intersectionality

The African Feminist Charter, a guide for any self-identifying Nigerian feminist, contains principles that inform feminist values. This charter recognizes “multiple and varied” identities of African women, emphasizing that feminists must center in their analysis, patriarchal social relations structures and systems, which are embedded in other oppressive and exploitative structures; “... thus, to challenge patriarchy effectively also requires challenging other systems of oppression and exploitation, which frequently mutually support each other.”

In conclusion, I acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of feminism, but I still implore all feminists to reconsider their political ideology and the principles upon which they are built.

Further Reading:

https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929/

https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929/

The Personal Is Political — Meaning and Origin (thoughtco.com)

Feminist Leadership (cofemsocialchange.org)

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Intersectional Feminism — JSTOR Daily

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Emitomo Tobi Nimisire

Writer, SRHR Consultant, Communications Strategist, and Feminist Researcher. Older work can be experienced at www.nimisire.wordpress.com.