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   Vol. 70/No. 20           May 22, 2006  
Sankara: no revolution without women’s equality
Below is an excerpt from Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle. The Spanish-language edition of this pamphlet is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month in May. The main item in the pamphlet is a speech by Thomas Sankara, central leader of the Aug. 4, 1983, revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso, formerly called Upper Volta. The occasion was a rally of several thousand women in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, on March 8, 1987, marking International Women’s Day. For four years the Sankara-led government carried out an ambitious program that included land reform, fighting corruption, and prioritizing education and health care. The specific excerpt below is from a section of the revolution’s basic programmatic document, Sankara’s Political Orientation Speech, issued shortly after the revolution’s victory. Both items can also be found in Pathfinder’s collection Thomas Sankara Speaks. On Oct. 15, 1987, Sankara was murdered in a counterrevolutionary military coup that destroyed the revolutionary government. Copyright © 1990 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The weight of the centuries-old traditions of our society has relegated women to the rank of beasts of burden. Women suffer doubly from all the scourges of neocolonial society. First, they experience the same suffering as men. Second, they are subjected to additional suffering by men.

Our revolution is in the interests of all the oppressed and all those who are exploited in today’s society. It is therefore in the interests of women, since the basis of their domination by men lies in the way society’s system of political and economic life is organized. By changing the social order that oppresses women, the revolution creates the conditions for their genuine emancipation.

The women and men of our society are all victims of imperialist oppression and domination. That is why they wage the same struggle. The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.

Forging a new mentality on the part of Voltaic women that allows them to take responsibility for the country’s destiny alongside men is one of the primary tasks of the revolution. At the same time, it is necessary to transform men’s attitudes toward women.

Up until now, women have been excluded from the realm of decision making. The revolution, by entrusting responsibilities to women, is creating the conditions for turning loose their fighting initiative. As part of its revolutionary policy, the CNR [National Council of the Revolution] will work to mobilize, organize, and unite all the active forces of the nation, and women will not lag behind. 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.

However, we need a correct understanding of the question of women’s emancipation. It does not signify a mechanical equality between men and women. It does not mean acquiring habits similar to those of men, such as drinking, smoking, and wearing trousers. Nor will acquiring diplomas make women equal to men or more emancipated. A diploma is not a passport to emancipation.

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. Emancipation, like freedom, is not granted but conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them. For that, the democratic and popular revolution will create the necessary conditions to allow Voltaic women to realize themselves fully and completely. After all, would it be possible to eliminate the system of exploitation while maintaining the exploitation of women, who make up more than half our society?  
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