'Àwani' - A Film About Colonialism's Impact on Gender Inequality in Nigeria · By Holly Ann Golightly
Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Colonialism and Women
Colonialism has impacted much of the world. It is a vast topic that requires
substantial thought, dissection, and discussion. It extends to all aspects of life:
religion, education, gender roles, language, and politics.
During the height of colonialism, one of the British Empire’s primary exports was
its own society and ‘values’. Through colonialism, both the identity and the role
of women were prescribed by the West.
In Nigeria today, like much of the rest of the world, there is gender inequality
and mistreatment of women. Feminism is often misunderstood and not seen as
an attempt to give men and women equal rights. However, is gender inequality in
Nigeria a byproduct of colonialism?
How did we get here?
Nigeria has long since been subject to scrutiny over whether young girls and the
rights of women are protected. This is particularly the case following the
kidnapping of 276 Chibok girls in 2014 by the terrorist group Boko Haram,
which caught international media attention at the time.
Aderonke Adeola is an art historian (University of Manchester, Alumni), writer,
cultural producer, and filmmaker. She examines the question: ‘How did we get here?’ investigating where and how modern attitudes towards the role of women in Africa have been formed.
Her thought-provoking documentary 'Àwani' puts Nigerian women at the centre
of the story. The film was the result of her research into gender equality and
serves as a catalyst to examine the role of Nigerian women. She was keen to find
out if gender inequality in Nigeria has always been in existence.
The role of women in Nigeria, pre-colonialism
Adeola’s research has found that in traditional Nigerian society,
women played active roles in commerce and activism. Prior to colonialism,
women had always been expected to look after children, but that did not
preclude them being part of the market place or from being leaders. In her film,
Adeola has included archival footage to make this case.
The role of women in Nigeria, under colonialism
Nigeria was colonised at the very end of the Victorian era, a time when men
and women’s roles were strictly defined in Britain. Women and girls' roles were
confined to the home and responsibility was for the household; they were
forbidden from owning businesses or land, while men went to work.
These ideals were exported to and forced on Nigerians. Although colonialism is
not the sole source of gender inequality in Nigeria, it certainly played a vital role.
'Àwani' reveals the complicated and oppressive force that colonialism was, a
force that inflicted values and structures not connected or relevant to the
The role of women in Nigeria, post colonialism
Adeola makes the case that although inequality is a global issue, its antecedents
are not. She feels the dire need for discourse about the impact of colonialism and
how gender roles of those impacted by it shifted and were distorted. She also
wants the women who fought against colonialism, such as the Benin Kingdom
and the Aba women, to be recognised and celebrated.
Women are at the heart of 'Àwani' and we need to honour the women of the past
by keeping their stories alive.
'Àwani' is Adeola’s first independent film. Since its bicoastal premiere at the Ake
festival in October, it has won an Award of Merit from the Impact Documentary
Awards and the UNESCO prize at the Afrika Film Festival in Belgium. 'Àwani' will
next premiere at the New York African Film Festival in June.
Find out more about 'Àwani' at: awanifilm.com and on instagram follow
Holly Ann Golightly is a thirty-something year old woman, based in Manchester. She is passionate about telling women’s stories and setting up dialogues to tackle the issues women across the world face on a daily basis.