When I went to southwestern Nigeria to investigate the roles of women in the anti-colonial struggle, I was told I would not find much. Au contraire!
Many scholarly articles and eventually two books (one commissioned by the American Historical Association as part of a series on women in the world) later, I found research that highlighted women and their struggle for independence. From Madam Pelewura in the 19th century, to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in the 1940s to the 1960s, the work profiled women’s significant political activity in the markets, in the struggle for suffrage, in the anti-colonial struggle, the struggle for women’s education and in the international struggle for women’s rights.
I interviewed market women, businesswomen, women nurses, educators, medical doctors and judges. I saw the full range of women’s roles, power and struggles; I saw that women were definitely not just victims, though there were those who attempted to victimize them. I made many friends and was able to better reflect on the roles of women around the world. Fulbright took a chance in funding my research because although the field of African women’s studies was growing, there were still many people who were not sure it could be “recovered” or that it was “worthy” enough. Given citations of my work and my presentations at conferences and in other venues, I feel certain that my work made a contribution to the field, a field that is now well established.
The Fulbright program gave me the opportunity to take my first trip (now the first of many) to the African continent. No one ever attempted to tell me what to research, what to write, or how to interpret anything. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity and am a strong proponent of the program. Nothing can take the place of personal interaction in effective understanding among the many people and cultures of the world.
Cheryl Johnson-Odim – Fulbright to Nigeria 1975