Women’s liberation and the African freedom Struggle

Thomas Sankara was the central leader of the popular democratic revolution in the West African country of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) from 1983 to 1987. 

Born in 199, Sankara entered military school in 1966, one of the few avenues for young people of his generation to receive a higher education. Continuing his training in Madagascar in the early 1970s, he was strongly influenced by a massive uprising of workers and students that toppled the country’s neocolonial government. It was in Madagascar that he was introduced to Marxism by students who had been part of the May 1968 Revolutionary upsurge in France.

A lieutenant in Upper Volta’s army, Sankara came to prominence as a military leader during a border conflict with Mali in December 1974 and January 1975. Over the next several years, he linked up with other junior officers and soldiers dissatisfied with the oppressive conditions in the country perpetuated by the imperialist rules in Paris and elsewhere, with the support of the local landlords, businessmen, tribal chieftains and politicians.

Sankara was jailed briefly in 1982 after resigning a government post to protest the regimes repressive policies. In the wake of a coup, Sankara was appointed prime minister in January 1983. Sankara’s uncompromising course – calling on the people of Upper Volta and elsewhere in Africa to advance their interests against the propertied exploiters at home and abroad – led to growing conflict with proimperialist forces in the government. In May 1983 Sankara and some of his forces were arreted by President Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo.

On August 4th, 1983, some 250 soldiers marched from an insurgent military base in Pó to the capital of Ouagadougou. This act sparked a popular uprising, in which Ouédraogo regime was overthrown. Sankara became president of the new National Council of the Revolution, opening four yeas of revolutionary activity by peasants, workers, women and youth described in the pages that follow. 

Sankara was assassinated and the evolutionary government was overthrown in a coup by Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987.


The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women


It is not an everyday occurrence for a man to speak to so many women at once. Nor does it happen every day that a man suggests to so many women new battles to be joined. A man experiences his first bashfulness the minute he becomes conscious he is looking at a woman. So, sisters, you will understand that despite the joy and the pleasure it gives me to be speaking to you, I still remain a man who sees in every one of you a mother, a sister, or a wife.

I hope, too, that our sisters here from Kadiogo province who don’t understand French – the foreign language in which I will be giving my speech – will be patient with us, as they always have been. After all, it is they who, like our mothers, accepted the task of carrying us for nine months without complaint. [Sankara then explains in the Mooré language that these women would receive a translation].


Comrades, the night of August 4 gave birth to an achievement that was most beneficial for the Burkinabe people. It gave our people a name and our country new horizons. Imbued with the invigorating sap of freedom, the men of Burkina, the humiliated and outlawed of yesterday, received the stamp of what is most precious in the world: honor and dignity. From this moment on, happiness became accessible. Every day we advance toward it, heady with the first fruits of our struggles,themselves proof of the great strides we have already taken. But this selfish happiness is an illusion. There is something crucial missing: women. They have been excluded from this joyful procession.


Though our men have already reached the edges of this great garden that is the revolution, our women are still confined to a depersonalizing darkness. Among themselves, in voices loud or soft, they talk of the experiences that have enveloped Burkina – experiences that are, for them, for the moment, merely a rumble in the distance. The revolution’s promises are already a reality for men. But for women, they are still merely a rumor. And yet the authenticity and the future of our revolution depend on women.


These are vital and essential questions, because nothing whole, nothing definitive or lasting can be accomplished  in our country as long as a crucial part of ourselves is kept in this condition of subjugation – a condition imposed over the course of centuries by various systems of exploitation.


Starting now, the men and women of Bukrina Faso should profoundly change their image of themselves. For they are part of a society that is not only their establishing new social relations but is also provoking  cultural transformation, upsetting the relations of authority between men and women and forcing both to rethink the nature of each.


This task is formidable but necessary. It will determine our ability to bring our revolution to its full statue, unleash its full potential, and show its true meaning for the direct, natural,, and necessary relations between men and women, the most natural of all relations between one human being and another. This will show to what extent the natural behaviour of man has become human and to what extent he has realied his human nature.


This human being, this vast and complex combination of pain and joy; solitary and forsaken, yet creator of all humanity; suffering, frustrated and humiliated, and yet endless source of happiness for each one of us; this source of affection beyond compare, inspiring the most unexpected courage, this being called weak, but possessing untold ability to inspire us to take the road of honor; this being of flesh and blood and of spiritual conviction – this being, women, is you! You are our source of comfort and life companions, our comrades in struggle who, because of this fact, should by rights assert yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.


It is in this light and that all of us, men and women, must define and assert the role and place of women in society. Therefore, we must restore to man his true image by making the reign of freedom prevail over differentiations imposed by nature and by eliminating all systems of hypocrisy that reinforce the shameless exploitation of women.

In other words, posing the question of women in Burkinabe society today means posing the abolition of the system of slavery to which they have subjected for millenia. The first step is to try to understand how this system functions, to grasp its real nature in all its subtlety, in order then to work out a line of action that can lead to women’s total emancipation.


In other words, in order to win this battle common to men and women, we must be familiar with all aspects of the woman question on a world as well as national scale. We must understand how the struggle of Burkinabe women today is the part of the worldwide struggle of all women and beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent. The condition of women is therefore at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here, there and everywhere. The question is thus universal in character.


End of part one.




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