VOA Special English
Benin's 'Woman King' in Movies, Real Life


    The Woman King is an African story told in the form of a Hollywood historical movie.

    The movie has won praise for its acting, directing, and for dealing with the idea of female political power. In the movie, women, led by General Nanisca, fight a war that men cannot.

    The film takes place in the 1800s in the Kingdom of Dahomey. Today the same area is known as Abomey. The story about female warriors and General Nanisca has echoed over a long period of time in Abomey and in the rest of the country of Benin.

    Meet the Real Life 'Woman King'
    Meet the Real Life 'Woman King'

    Nan Zognidi is the present-day queen mother of Abomey.

    She said she teaches young people the same values that the female warriors did: Girls are equal to boys. Girls are as able and competent as boys.

    "They have the same abilities and the same competencies as boys," she said.

    Zognidi's position of queen mother is fully ceremonial. It helps bring foreign visitors to the area. But before she became queen mother, Zognidi was a women's rights activist.

    Now, she runs a program to teach girls trades that support financial independence. She teaches the history and culture of Benin. She also teaches leadership to young people.

    One of these young people is 13-year-old Pkadomi Sylvestre. She said the queen mother taught her how to work on political activities for women's empowerment.

    In the city of Cotonou, a statue of one of Abomey's female warriors was first shown earlier this year.

    The United Nations has said Africa needs more of the examples set by the female warriors of Abomey. That statement comes from U.N. Women, an arm of the United Nations dedicated to female empowerment.

    "Women who are involved in politics are not usually positively seen by society," said area U.N. adviser Soulef Guessoum. She noted that, in Africa, women make up 25 percent of the elected assembly. That number is less than the 30 percent target set by the U.N. in 1995. And it is below the 50 percent that many consider the final goal.

    Marion Ogeto is a human rights lawyer who works with Equality Now, a non-profit group that advocates female empowerment. She said the female warriors of Abomey are inspiring.

    "This community was way ahead of its time by advocating for an army that is all and only women," said Ogeto.

    She added the story "shows you that they have a woman leader, a woman king, and then she's in a position where she's able to sit at the same table as the king as well as all the others and tell the king, 'This is not how we handle the situation…'"

    The queen mother, Zognidi, thinks the most important lesson Abomey's warriors teach is that "everything that men can do, women can do today. We can't say that women are weak, it is wrong."

    Women, she said, are as strong as men.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Henry Wilkins in Benin wrote this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    echo –n. a repeated sound or idea that goes on for a long time

    dedicated –adj. giving very strong support or loyalty to something

    advocate –v. to argue in support of a cause or policy

    inspiring –adj. causing people to want or create something or to lead their lives in a different way