It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women today and in recognition of this dedicated day (and the 16 consecutive international activist days), I am sharing quotes from one of the best speeches on women’s liberation and the African freedom struggle by one of the most extraordinary leaders of modern history, former Burkinabe president, Thomas Sankara.
A true humanist, Thomas Sankara grasped that the fight for women’s equality was part of the fight for racial equality. The following excerpts are from
The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women speech, which he held to a rally of several thousand women in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1987.
(Source: Thomas Sankara Speaks Copyright © 1990, 2007 Pathfinder Press)
- Posing the question of women in Burkinabè society today means posing the abolition of the system of slavery to which they have been subjected for millennia. The first step is to try to understand how this system works, 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 that men and women have in common, we must be familiar with all aspects of the woman question on a world scale and here in Burkina. We must understand how the struggle of the Burkinabè woman is part of a worldwide struggle of all women and, beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent. Thus, women’s emancipation is at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here and everywhere. The question is thus universal in character.
- Women’s fate is bound up with that of an exploited male. However, this solidarity must not blind us in looking at the specific situation faced by womenfolk in our society. It is true that the woman worker and simple man are exploited economically, but the worker wife is also condemned further to silence by her worker husband. This is the same method used by men to dominate other men! The idea was crafted that certain men, by virtue of their family origin and birth, or by ‘divine rights’, were superior to others.
- From the first beginnings of human history, man’s mastering of nature has never been accomplished with his bare hands alone. The hand with the opposable thumb reaches out for the tool, which increases the hand’s power. It was thus not physical attributes alone–musculature or the capacity to give birth, for example–that determined the unequal status of men and women. Nor was it technological progress as such that institutionalized this inequality. In certain cases, in certain parts of the globe, women were able to eliminate the physical difference that separated them from men. It was rather the transition from one form of society to another that served to institutionalize women’s inequality. This inequality was produced by our own minds and intelligence in order to develop a concrete form of domination and exploitation. The social function and role to which women have been relegated ever since is a living reflection of this fact. Today, her childbearing functions and the social obligation to conform to models of elegance determined by men prevent any woman who might want to from developing a so-called male musculature.