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   Vol. 69/No. 16           April 25, 2005  
Women and the 1983 Burkina Faso revolution
(Books of the Month column)
Below are excerpts from Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for April. This speech was given by Thomas Sankara to a rally of several thousand women held in Burkina Faso on March 8, 1987, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Sankara was the central leader of the Aug. 4, 1983, popular uprising in the West African country of Upper Volta—a former French colony—ushering in one of the deepest revolutions in African history. The country was renamed Burkina Faso, “Land of the Upright,” one year later. On Oct. 15, 1987, Sankara was murdered in the course of a counterrevolutionary military coup that destroyed the revolutionary government. Copyright © 1990 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

On October 2, 1983, in the Political Orientation Speech, the National Council of the Revolution laid out clearly the main axis of the fight for women’s liberation. It made a commitment to work to mobilize, organize, and unify all the active forces of the nation, particularly women.

The Political Orientation Speech had this to say specifically in regard to women: “Women will be an integral part of all the battles we will have to wage against the various shackles of neocolonial society and for the construction of a new society. They will take part in all levels of the organization of the life of the nation as a whole, from conceiving projects to making decisions and implementing them. The final goal of this great undertaking is to build a free and prosperous society in which women will be equal to men in all domains.”

There can be no clearer way to conceptualize and explain the question of women and the liberation struggle ahead of us. “The genuine emancipation of women is that which entrusts responsibilities to them and involves them in productive activity and in the different struggles the people face. Women’s genuine emancipation is one that exacts men’s respect and consideration.”

What is clearly indicated here, sister comrades, is that the struggle to liberate women is above all your struggle to deepen our democratic and popular revolution, a revolution that grants you from this moment on the right to speak and act in building a new society of justice and equality, in which men and women have the same rights and responsibilities. The democratic and popular revolution has created the conditions for such a liberating struggle. It now falls to you to act with the greatest sense of responsibility in breaking through all the shackles and obstacles that enslave women in backward societies like ours and to assume your share of the responsibilities in the political fight to build a new society at the service of Africa and all humanity.

In the very first hours of the democratic and popular revolution we said that “emancipation, like freedom, is not granted but conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.” The revolution has not only laid out the objectives of the struggle for women’s liberation but has also indicated the road to be followed and the methods to be used, as well as the main actors in this battle. We have now been working together, men and women, for four years in order to achieve success and come closer to our final goal. We should note the battles waged and the victories won, as well as the setbacks suffered and the difficulties encountered. This will aid us in preparing and leading future struggles.

So what tasks does our democratic and popular revolution have in respect to women's emancipation? What acquisitions do we have, and what obstacles still remain? One of the main acquisitions of the revolution with regard to women’s emancipation was, without any doubt, the establishment of the Women’s Union of Burkina (UFB). This is a major acquisition because it has provided the women of our country with a framework and a solid mechanism with which to wage a successful fight. Establishing the UFB represents a big victory in that it allows for the mobilization of all politically active women around well-defined and just objectives, under the leadership of the National Council of the Revolution.

The UFB is an organization of militant and serious women who are determined to change things, to fight until they win, to fall and fall again, but to get back on their feet and go forward without retreating. This is the new consciousness that has taken root among the women of Burkina, and we should all be proud of it. Comrades, the Women’s Union of Burkina is your combat weapon. It belongs to you. Sharpen it again and again so that its blade will cut more deeply, bringing you ever-greater victories.

The different initiatives directed at women’s emancipation that the government has taken over a period of a little more than three years are certainly inadequate. But they have put us on the right road, to the point where our country can present itself as being in the vanguard of the battle to liberate women. Women of Burkina participate more and more in decision making and in the real exercise of popular power. They are present everywhere the country is being built. You can find them at every work site: in the Sourou [Valley irrigation project], in our reforestation programs, in vaccination brigades, in Operation Clean Town, in the Battle for the Railroad, and so on.

Step by step, the women of Burkina have gained a foothold everywhere, are asserting themselves and demolishing all the male chauvinist, backward conceptions of men. And this process will go on until women are present in Burkina’s entire social and professional fabric. For three and a half years our revolution has worked to systematically eliminate all practices that demean women, such as prostitution and related activity, like vagrancy and female juvenile delinquency, forced marriages, female circumcision, and their particularly difficult living conditions.

By working to solve the water problem, by building windmills in the villages, by assuring the widespread use of the improved stove, by building public nurseries, carrying out daily vaccinations, and encouraging healthy, abundant, and varied eating habits, the revolution has no doubt greatly contributed to improving the quality of women’s lives….

We must collectively remain alert to women’s access to productive work. It is this work that emancipates and liberates women by assuring them economic independence and a greater social role, as well as a more complete and accurate understanding of the world.  
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