A Review of Literature on the Role of Religion in Women´s Movements for Social Change in Nigeria.


This review of literature examines the existence, nature and workings of women in movements for social change in Nigeria. It situates women´s organizing for social change in a country context where religion and politics are deeply intertwined in public and private life. The right to religious freedom and practice are enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and the multi-religious, multi-ethnic character of Nigeria is vociferously upheld in all facets of public policy and administration. Consequently, religion and ethnicity are sites of intense contestation over political power and economic resources. In relation to social movements, religion serves as a framework for community identity, belonging and organizing, particularly for women who are regarded as the custodians of religion and culture. Thus, there exists in Nigeria a plethora of women´s groups mobilizing around common interests for social change.

However, the review of literature reveals that women´s organizing is splintered, multi-dimensional and conflicting; it is based on fragmented identities and competing interests mediated by ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic status. Because of the lack of a central, coherent, clear-cut feminist agenda for social change, some have argued that there is no women´s movement in Nigeria. However, others point to the existence of common interests around which secular women and women of faith have united at both State and federal levels to promote specific change agendas. Two of these are highlighted in this literature review, namely the Anambra State campaign for legal reform of harmful traditional practices (widowhood rites) and affirmative action, and the national campaign for the domestication of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women).

The review is based on secondary materials and documentary analysis, together with some primary data obtained from nine key informant interviews. Source materials and primary data were collected in Anambra, Kano, Oyo and Plateau States. The review traces the historical development of women´s organizing in Nigeria, distinguishing between practical and strategic gender interests, highlighting regional distinctions with respect to both secular and faith-based contexts. The review suggests some ways in which religion has interacted with women´s change agendas. It contends that religion has had an ambiguous and contradictory influence on social change processes: for example in a campaign in Anambra State for legal reform against harmful traditional practices, faith-based organizations were at the forefront, yet opposition from religious groups was important in thwarting the CEDAW domestication bill in 2007.


Adamu, F.; Para-Mallam, O.; Adebayo Ajala; Bolatito Lanre-Abass. A Review of Literature on the Role of Religion in Women´s Movements for Social Change in Nigeria. (2010) 73 pp.

A Review of Literature on the Role of Religion in Women´s Movements for Social Change in Nigeria.

Published 1 January 2010