Women’s Liberation and the African freedom struggle

Part 4


Women’s reality in Burkina Faso

While society sees the birth of a boy as a “gift from god”, the birth of a girl is greeted as an act of fate, or at best, a gift that can be used to produce food and perpetuate the human race  The little male will be taught how to want and get, to speak up and be served, to desire and to take, to decide things on his own. The future woman, however, is dealt blow after blow by a society that unanimously, as one man – and “as one man” is the appropriate term – drums into her head the norms that lead nowhere. A psychological straitjacket called the virtue produces a spirit of personal alienation within her. Concern with being protected is nurtured in the child’s mind, inclining her to seek the supervision of a protector or negotiations for a marriage. What a monstrous mental fraud!


And so this child knows no childhood. From the age of three, she must meet the requirements of her role in life: to serve and be useful. While her brother of four or five or six will play till he drops from exhaustion or boredom, she, with little ceremony, will enter the process of production. She already has a trade: assistant housewife. It is of course an unpaid position, for isn’t it generally said that a housewife “does nothing”? Don’t we write “housewife” on the identity cards of women who have no income, meaning they have no job? That they are “not working”? With the help of tradition and obligatory submissiveness, our sisters grow up more and more dependent, more and more dominated, more and more exploited, and with less and less leisure or free time.


While the young man’s road includes opportunities to blossom and take charge of his life, at every new stage of the young girl’s life the social straitjacket is pulled tighter around her. She will pay a heavy price for having been born female. And she will pay it throughout her whole life, until the weight of her toil and the effects – physical and mental -of her selflessness lead her to the day of eternal rest.  She is an instrument of production at the side of her mother, who from that moment on, is already more of a boss than a mother. She will never sit idle, nor be left alone to her games and toys like her brother.


Whichever direction we turn – from the central plateau in the northeast, dominated by by societies where power is highly centralized; to the west, where the powers of the village communities are decentralized; or the southwest, the land of the so-called segmental communities – traditional social organization has at least one point in common: the subordination of women. In our 8,000 villages, on our 600,000 plots of land, and in our million-plus households, on the question of women we can see identical or similar approaches. From one end of the country to the other, social cohesion as defined by men requires the submission of women and the subordination of the young.


Our society – still too primitively agrarian, patriarchal, and polygamous – turns the woman into an object of exploitation for her labour power and of consumption for her biological reproductive capacity. How does the woman manage to live out this dual identity? Which makes her the vital link that keeps the whole family together. The link whose presence and attention guarantees the families fundamental unity. While at the same time guaranteeing she will be marginalized and ignored?

The woman leads twofold existence indeed, the depth of her social ostracism being equalled only by her stoic endurance. To live in harmony with the society of man, to conform with mens demands, she resigns herself to self-effacement that is demanding, she sacrifices herself.

Women; source of life, yet object. Mother, yet servile, domestic. Nurturer, yet trophy. Exploited in the fields and at home, yet playing the role of a faceless, voiceless extra. The pivot, the link, yet in chains. Female shadow of the male shadow.  The woman is a pillar of the family well being, the midwife, the washerwoman, cleaner, cook, errand runner, matron, farmer, healer, gardener, grinder, saleswoman, worker. She is labour power working with obsolete tools, putting in hundreds of thousands of hours for an appalling level of production.

Our sisters fighting as they are on forefronts against disease, hunger, poverty, degeneracy, feel the pressure of changes over which they have no control. For every single one of the 800,000 males who immigrate, a woman takes on an additional load. The two million Burkinabe men who live outside the country, thus exasperate  the imbalance in the sexual issue that puts the women at 51.7% of the total population, or 52.1% of the resident population that is essentially a part of the workforce.

Too busy to give the necessary attention to her children, too exhausted to think of herself the woman continues to slave away; wheel of fortune, wheel of friction, drive wheel, spare wheel, Ferris wheel.  Broken on the wheel and the bullied, women, our sisters and wives, pay for having created life. Socially relegated to third place, after the man and the child, they pay for sustaining. Here, to, a third world is arbitrary held back, by the dominated, to be exploited. Subjugated, the women goes from the protective guardian who exploits her to one who dominates her and exploits her even more. She is the first to work and last to rest. She is the first to go for water, first at the fire, yet last to quench her thirst. She may eat if there is food left and only after the man. She is the keepstone of the family, carrying both family and society on her shoulders, in her hands and in her belly.

In return, she is paid with oppressive, pro-birth ideology, food to booze and restrictions, malnutrition, dangerous pregnancies, depersonalization, and innumerable other evils that make maternal deaths one of the most, unspeakable, shameful defects of our society.  Given this foundation of alienation, the intrusion of predators from afar encourage the isolation of women, making their condition even more precarious.

The euphoria of independence left  women behind in bed with dashed hope. Forced into segregated discussion, absent from decisions, vulnerable (and thus the primary victim), they remained at the mercy of the family and society. Capital and bureaucracy have banded together to keep women subjugated. Imperialism has done the rest. Only half as likely men to attend school, women are 99% illiterate, have little training in trades, are discriminated against in employment, are confined to the worse jobs, and are the first to be harassed and fired.

Yet burdened as they are by a hundred traditions and thousands of excuses, women have continued to rise to meet challenge after challenge. They have tried to keep going whatever the cost for the sake of their children, their family, and for society in general. Throughout a nights without a dawn. Capitalism needed cotton, shea nuts, and sesame for it’s industries. And it was women, it was our mothers, who in addition to all the tasks they were carrying out, found themselves responsible for the harvesting of these products too. In the towns, where civilization is supposedly a liberating force for women, they found themselves decorating bourgeois living rooms, selling their bodies to survive or surviving as commercial bait for advertising.

Women from petty bourgeois in the towns no doubt live better on a material level than the women in the country side. Are they really freer, more liberated, more respected or entrusted with more responsibility? We must do more than ask questions in this regard. We must provide a way forward.

Many problems still persist, whether they concern jobs, access to education, womens status in legal code or just the problems of every day life. The Burkinabe women still remains the one who comes after the man, rather than alongside him.  The different necolonial governments that were in power in Burkina Faso, never went beyond a bourgeois approach to womens emancipation. One that offers only an illusion of freedom and dignity. A few petty bourgeois women who were concerned with the latest fashion in feminist politics – rather, primitive feminism – which demanded the right of the women to be masculine. Thus the creation of Ministry of Women in society, headed by a woman, was touted as a victory. But was womens position in society understood?

Was it understood that the position of women the condition of 52% of Burkinabe population? Was it understood that this condition was a product of the social, political and economic structures and of prevailing backward conceptions? And that the transformation of this position therefore could be accomplished the single ministry, even one led by women? This was so true that the Burkinabe women could plainly see after several years of this ministries existence that their position had not changed. And they could not be otherwise, given that the approach to the question of women’s liberation that had led the creation of this token ministry had refused to recognize, show, and to take into account of women’s subjugation. So we should not be surprised, despite the existence of this ministry, prostitution grew, womens access to education and jobs did not improve, their civil and political rights continued to be ignored and the general conditions of their lives in town and country alike improved not one iota.

Female trinket, token female politician in government, female temptress to influence elections, female robot in the kitchen, female frustrated by the submission and restriction imposed despite her open mind – wherever the female finds herself in the spectrum of pain, whether urban or rural she continues to suffer.

But one single night placed women at the heart of the families resurgence and at the center of national solidarity. The dawn that followed the night, August 4th 1983, brought liberty with it, calling all of us to march together side by side as a single people joined by solidarity in common goals. The August revolution found the Burkinabe women in her status of subjugation exploited by the neocolonial society deeply imbued by the backward social forces. The revolution owed it to itself to break with reactionary policies on womens emancipation that have been advocated and followed up – by clearly defining, just, and revolutionary policies.


End of part 4.

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