Books of the Month

‘The revolution cannot triumph without emancipation of women’

April 4, 2022
Revolutionary leader and President of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara speaks on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1987. He was assassinated that year in counterrevolutionary coup.
Militant/Ernest HarschRevolutionary leader and President of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara speaks on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1987. He was assassinated that year in counterrevolutionary coup.

To mark International Women’s Month, the Militant is featuring the French edition of   Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara. Sankara  led a popular uprising in August 1983 that established a revolutionary government in Burkina Faso, in West Africa. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the government there mobilized workers and peasants, including women and youth, to carry out deep-going social measures in one of the poorest countries in the world, as well as extending international solidarity. In October 1987 Sankara was assassinated in a counterrevolutionary coup. The excerpt is from “The Revolution Cannot Triumph Without the Emancipation of Women,” given on March 8, 1987. Copyright © 2008 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 Political Orientation Speech had this to say specifically in regard to women: “They will be involved in all the battles we will have to wage against the various shackles of neocolonial society in order to build a new society. They will be involved — at all levels in conceiving projects, making decisions, and implementing them — in organizing the life of the nation as a whole. 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 spheres.”

There can be no clearer way to conceive of and explain the question of women and the liberation struggle ahead of us. “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. …

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.