Born in Kaduna to Igbo parents, Amadiume was educated in Nigeria before moving to Britain in 1971. She studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, gaining a BA (1978) and PhD (1983) in social anthropology. Her fieldwork in Africa resulted in two ethnographic monographs relating to the Igbo - African Matriarchal Foundations (1987), and the award-winning Male Daughters Female Husbands (Zed Press, 1987). A book of theoretical essays, Reinventing Africa, appeared in 1998.

She is on the advisory board of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a non-governmental organisation that aims to promote the values of democracy, peace and human rights in Africa, particularly in the West African sub-region.

Dr Amadiume is widely regarded for her pioneering work in feminist discourse: "[h]er work has made a tremendous contribution to new ways of thinking about sex and gender, the question of power, and women's place in history and culture". She has nevertheless attracted criticism for her "assumption that [the] female is necessarily equated with peace and love."