LAGOS, Nigeria — During the biggest demonstrations in Nigeria’s recent history, 13 women came together to support their fellow citizens risking their lives to march against police brutality.
The women were all in their 20s and 30s. All at the top of their fields. Many had never met in person. They found one another through social media months before, and named their group the Feminist Coalition. They jokingly called themselves “The Avengers.”
“We decided that if we don’t step in, the people who suffer the greatest will end up being women,” said Odunayo Eweniyi, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur and a founding member of the Feminist Coalition.
They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars last year over crowdfunding websites to support the demonstrators who took to the streets to denounce human rights abuses by a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. The Feminist Coalition provided basic services to the protesters: legal aid, emergency health care food, masks, raincoats. But when peaceful protesters were shot by the military, and the demonstrations wound down, the Feminist Coalition did not.
Now, their sights are set higher. They want equality for Nigerian women, and they are turning their focus to issues like sexual violence, women’s education, financial equality and representation in politics.
The fight for equality won’t be easy. A Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, first introduced in 2010, has repeatedly been voted down by Nigeria’s male-dominated Senate.
And then there’s the matter of being proud feminists, in a country where the word feminist is commonly used as an insult.
For years, identifying as a feminist in Nigeria has been fraught. The coalition’s decision to use the word in the organization’s name, and the female symbol in their yellow logo, was pointed. Many of the protesters benefiting from their assistance were men — and not all of them had been supportive of women’s rights.
“We only used the word because we wanted to let them know where the money is coming from,” Ms. Eweniyi said.
We talked to some of the women behind the Feminist Coalition about why they joined and what they are trying to change in Nigeria.