Undressing for redress: the significance of Nigerian women’s naked protests

Undressing for redress: the significance of Nigerian women’s naked protests

Historically, in western and non-western worlds, women have used their bodies to protest unacceptable treatment by those in power. In Africa, the nakedness of women, especially mothers and grandmothers, is a historical and symbolic “shaming” tactic. Women’s enacting nakedness on their own terms disrupts dominant notions that depict their bodies as passive, powerless, or as sexual objects for sale.

A brief history of naked protests

Most studies have focused on the role of clothing in society and demonstrated how it can change the perception of an individual. Sadly, there is little research on naked protests, perhaps because society frowns on public displays of the naked body.

The unclothed female body is a powerful site of protest. By protesting naked, women have resurrected traditional forms of sociopolitical protests and resistance like the custom common among Igbo women known as “sitting on a man” or “making war” with men. This custom was a practice where women showed their disapproval of abusive men, men who failed to provide for their family or who disregarded market rules. Dressed as men in preparation for war, the women wore only loincloths with ferns on their heads, smeared ashes on their faces and carried sticks with palm fronds. They would dance around the house singing lewd and insulting songs that questioned the offender’s manhood, and would pound on the house using their pestles and in severe cases, destroyed the house. They would continue this activity until the offender repented. This act was viewed as the ultimate means by which women sanctioned wrongdoers.

By Bright Alozie, West Virginia University

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