3 Apr 2022



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After many years under colonial administration, Africa went through a lot of pain as well as a lot of changes. Scholars have had much interest in studying the impact that colonialism had on Africans and other third world countries. Consequently, there exists much debate on the impact of colonialism on many western scholars arguing for the colonial power. Western scholars attribute any development or progress in the African nations as a direct product of colonialism, but in many ways, Africans themselves mourn the very idea of colonialism 1 . One of such impacts is on gender relations. Owing to the significant change in gender relations after colonialism, there is much to study on gender and colonialism in African states In particular countries like Nigeria. This paper studies the impact of colonialism on gender relations in Nigeria.

In pre-colonial Nigeria, gender roles differed in a different number of ethnic groups. Men and women had different roles and the position depended in the kinship structure of the ethnic group and its economic structure 2 . Common factors however included women having domestically oriented jobs than men. Women in particular had a range of economic activities such as pottery and baskets weaving that were reserved entirely for them. Patriarchal and patrilineal societies dominated the pre-colonial societal structure, but in any case, women had a complementary position to men. While men had the leading role women had certain duties to achieve for their position to improve. A Wife married to a Yoruba family will be expected to bear sons so that the community can continue. A young wife’s position would improve as she continues giving birth and gaining acceptance from the others.

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The role of the woman did not wholly remain in the household, but as she becomes powerful, she would start gaining some roles outside in the home as well. She would be engaged in farming activities and crafting so she can earn income. It was not only the male's job to provide for the family, but women were also expected to provide resources for the care of the family. Women mostly provided material resources, a job which most women used to acquire impressive status in the economic and social realms of the society. Nevertheless, men still had a higher position than women. In power, women would gain power through marriage or lineage. A woman married to a leader such as a chief or a king would automatically acquire a given status and power over other people. Even with the acquired power, women would not show their influence in public as opposed to men.

In religion, the perception of gender was also the same. Women had a complementary role to men but not a subordinate one. Religion recognizes women social role and even some communities had female gods of fertility. They also believed that men as the leaders had some control over women and if a woman had the power that is not controlled by a woman it can lead to dangerous results. This explained the existence of witches who were mostly female. However women also had some religious roles reserved entirely for them Nevertheless in most Nigerian societies, gender is a pronoun that is absent in their vocabularies, and they would even interchange men and female names. Though men were believed to control women, power was based on seniority rather than on gender.

Colonial rule distorted some of the notions of gender as were in the African societies. The African societies did not put much emphasis on gender but the colonial rule came with the European notion of gender. The European notion of gender entailed that a woman’s place was in the household while men would engage in waged jobs to provide for the family. The colonialist at the same time expected women to work as complementation of men’s work. Gender roles therefore changed by legislation which restricted women and focused on the colonial economics on men 3 .

The alienation of land also had a great impact in men as well as women. The colonialist came and grabbed the land that belonged to Africans leaving them with no place to till. Men were left with an option of becoming laborers on the farms made by the white people. This distorted the structure of the society by taking men away from their duties at home. Men were no longer available to do their household duties as they had to work for the British. Women were left with a big burden of taking care of the family as well as providing for them. This was made too difficult as women mostly depended on the farms for food and other materials. Thus women remained dependent on the wage which would be brought by men making them less useful in the family.

Nonetheless, women became overburdened with responsibilities in the absence of men. With a little piece of land their productivity diminished. Women lost their economic independence due to loss of land while men acquired a new economic status by cultivating cash crops. Waged labor also affected and victimized women significantly, while men were full-time laborers. Women were only used as casual laborers during labor peaks. During this time the women were forced to leave their families, and sometimes children would be forced to accompany the women to the farms.

The threat to gender not only existed in jobs but leadership as well. Earlier, there were male and female chiefs in Nigeria but as the colonial rule begun the privileges and influence of women were made meaningless. Colonial changes combined with patriarchy to change gender relations altogether. Male chefs collaborated with the British colonial power and made the female chiefs power to decline with their importance. The British also changed the economy of Nigeria gearing it towards cash crop production where men and European firms dominate. Women were thus pushed to the background where they only produced subsistence crops 4 .

Women began having lesser control on land as it becomes commercialized by men who dealt with cash crops. Gender relations continued to widen the gap between men and women as time went by. The introduction of education only made the situation worse. The education system favored boys giving them a bigger opportunity to get westernized jobs that came with the colonialists. Women on the other had remained uneducated and unskilled hence unfit for any job provided by the white man. Consequently, gender imbalance sprung and women became mere subordinates to men.

The British rule intensified patriarchy in the African society. It made the woman dependent and weaker to male. It also made them victims of discrimination as most jobs cold not favor women, and they were not privileged to get an education. For that reason, the woman’s role was reduced and confined to the home. The home became the only place a woman could exist in peace. Evidently, gender relations significantly changed due to colonialism. Colonialism played a big role in orchestrating the oppression of women.

The oppression of women did not begin only because of the theme being deemed dependent and weak, but the white power also oppressed women. Oppression was seen in various forms. The most imminent are denying them the power and access to land and jobs. Denying women education is also a form of oppression. As is not enough, the colonial government also imposed taxes on women 5 . They would use men to indirectly tax women. Gender relations now entail a superior gender and a weaker gender which falls subject to oppression and sometimes various forms of mistreatment.

Thus, the struggle in gender relation begun due to colonialism, it entailed women struggling for voice and equality in the society. The struggle began about education where women were fighting to be represented. Slowly women began to get a chance to enroll in school. However, to date, there are still issues in education as women are still believed to be weaker at pursuing certain courses. Much of this is attributed to the societal perception of females being the weaker gender. In politics, gender relations are improving as women and men now have equal power according to seniority but not according to gender.


.Ajala, A. S., & Wulemat, O. A. (January 01, 2013). From kitchen to corridor of power : Yoruba women breaking through patriarchal politics in south-western Nigeria. Gender Questions, 1, 1, 58-82.

Chuku, G. (2005). Igbo women and economic transformation in southeastern Nigeria, 1900-1960 . New York: Routledge.

Imhonopi, D., Urim, U., & Tun, C. (2013). Colonialism, social structure and class formation: Implication for development in Nigeria. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net

Okpeh, O. O., & Ugbegili, S. I. (2013). Themes on Nigerian history, peoples and cultures

Rojas, M. (2016). Women in precolonial Nigeria. Retrieved from http://www.postcolonialweb.com

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