Thomas Sankara

Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle

Review By

Thomas Sankara

This book contains a speech given by the central leader of the Burkina Faso revolution Thomas Sankara on March 8, 1987 to thousands of women who had gathered in the capital Ouagadougou to commemorate International Women’s Day. Sankara offers a speech which is both incisive and inspiring on what the revolution means for the liberation of women and how a successful revolution must by necessity address this question, in his own words;

       “Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women”. 

The way Sankara talks about women’s struggle in relation to class struggle is an essential idea that is often forgotten or overlooked by male progressives or revolutionaries. This book was specifically targeted towards the women of Burkina Faso, but at the same time contains a universal struggle. 

One of his speeches titled “The Revolution Cannot Triumph without the Emancipation of Women”, makes me look at him as the first truly feminist African president because he says that women began to suffer when society transitioned from a matriarchal to patriarchal system. 

He calls out men who don’t allow their wives to participate in politics saying they should take up household tasks alongside their wives. He also encourages women to get more involved in the revolution. This is definitely an interesting speech that I think resonates with what’s happening in Uganda at the moment as many women have been urged to join politics and voice the concerns of other women in different levels of leadership.

“Women hold up the other half of the sky.” Is a brilliant speech in this book, outlining not only the importance of liberating women and the benefits of such actions to any society, but stressing the negative attitudes men hold in regards to women that are so terribly damaging. 

This book also reflects the beliefs on what Sankara thought about women’s liberation and the role that women played in society in Africa. 

Sankara also raised the banner on women’s “Emancipation” which I think is right because 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.

Sankara also makes the argument that emancipating women through ending systems of exploitation (stereotypical genders roles, prostitution, etc.) will help restore the “true image” of the man. 

He also saw women as the most oppressed group of people in society saying that.

The man, however, no matter how oppressed he is, has another human ending to oppress: his wife.”

It was on this note that he appointed women into positions within the government and into the revolutionary army with hope of relieving them from oppression at home. He created the Ministry of Family Development and the Union of Burkina Women (UFB) and amended the constitution to require that the president have at least five women in their ministry. 

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. Sankara was jailed briefly in 1982 after resigning a government post to protest the regime’s repressive policies. He has authored books like “We are the Heirs of the World’s, Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987 and then the Women’s Liberation & the African Freedom Struggle. No wonder he was referred to by many as An African Revolutionary.

I absolutely adored reading Sankara’s 50-page speech on women’s liberation. It’s a super short & easy read that i think should be read everywhere. We can learn so much from this man and his refreshing outlook on life. Thomas Sankara wanted women to speak up, he allowed them to have a voice, he made space for them in his government. And the end of this speech he says that he doesn’t want to live in a society where “half the people are held in silence.” He could “hear the roar of women’s silence.” Let us not be silent anymore. 

In a nutshell, he fought to change the way women were viewed and treated in Burkina Faso. 

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