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Vol. 78/No. 41      November 17, 2014

Thomas Sankara: Struggles
of women deepen revolution
(Books of the Month column)
Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month. Sankara was the central leader of the popular democratic revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. The piece excerpted here is from a speech to a rally of several thousand women in the capital Ouagadougou on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1987. On Oct. 15, 1987, Sankara was assassinated in a coup organized by Blaise Compaoré, who was recently deposed by mass demonstrations. Copyright © 1990 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

On October 2, 1983, in the Political Orientation Speech, the National Council of the Revolution clearly laid out 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 genuine emancipation of women is one that entrusts responsibilities to women, that involves them in productive activity and in the different fights the people face. The genuine emancipation of women is one that compels men to give their respect and consideration.”

What is clearly indicated here, comrade militants, 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 now on the right to speak and act in building a 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 fight. It now falls to you to act with the greatest sense of responsibility in breaking through all the chains and shackles 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 at the service of all humanity.

In the very first hours of the democratic and popular revolution we said, “Emancipation, like freedom, is not granted, it is conquered. It is for women themselves to put forward their demands and mobilize to win them.” In this way, our revolution has not only laid out the goal to be attained in the struggle for women’s liberation but has also indicated the road to follow and the methods to use, as well as the main protagonists of this battle. …

What work has the democratic and popular revolution accomplished with respect to women’s emancipation? What are the strong points, the weak points?

One of the main gains of our revolution in the struggle for women’s emancipation has been, without doubt, the establishment of the Women’s Union of Burkina [UFB]. The creation of this organization constitutes a major gain because it has given the women of our country a framework and sound tools for waging a successful fight. The creation of the UFB represents a big victory because it makes possible mobilizing all women militants around well-defined and just goals in the fight for liberation, under the leadership of the National Council of the Revolution.

The UFB is the organization of militant and serious women who are determined to work for change, to fight to win, to fall down repeatedly, but to get back on their feet each time 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. Comrade militants, the Women’s Union of Burkina is your combat organization. It’s up to you to sharpen it further so its blade will cut more deeply, bringing you more and more victories.

The different initiatives for women’s emancipation that the government has been able to take over a little more than three years are certainly insufficient. But they have made it possible to take some steps, to the point where our country can today present itself as being in the vanguard of the battle to liberate women. Our women participate more and more in decision making and in the real exercise of popular power. The women of Burkina are present everywhere the country is being built. They are part of the projects — the Sourou [valley irrigation project], reforestation, the vaccination brigades, the “clean town” operations, the Battle for the Railroad, and so on.

Little by little the women of Burkina have stood up and asserted themselves, demolishing in the process all the male-chauvinist, backward conceptions of men. And this 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 continually to eliminate all practices that demean women, such as prostitution and related problems, like vagrancy and female juvenile delinquency, forced marriages, female circumcision, and the particularly difficult living conditions women face.

By working to solve the water problem everywhere, by helping to install mills in the villages, popularizing the improved cookstoves, creating popular day-care centers, carrying out regular vaccinations, and encouraging a healthy, abundant, and varied diet, the revolution has no doubt greatly contributed to improving the quality of life of the Burkinabè woman. Women, in turn, should commit themselves to greater involvement in putting into practice the slogans of the fight against imperialism. They should be firm in producing and consuming Burkinabè goods by always asserting their role as major economic players — both as producers and consumers of locally made goods.

Though the August revolution has undoubtedly done much for the emancipation of women, this is still far from adequate. Much remains for us to do.
Related articles:
Burkina Faso: Protests depose hated president:
Open toilers’ battle for political space
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