The Emancipation Of Women… Speech By Thomas Sankara


africDespite many milestones we’ve achieved when it comes to empowering women, even though our sisters and daughters will likely enjoy a better life and have access to more choices than our mothers had, numerous issues still exist in all areas of women lives, from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, today, women work more than men, yet are paid less; women, also bear a greater burden as the mothers and caregivers of most of the worlds poor.

……………………………………………………….. To mark the International women’s day 2014, we’ve chosen to share with you the following speech is a speech by the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara to a rally of women regarding their crucial role in society on March 8th 1987.

…………………….”The human being,” he said, “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.
Image courtesy of Eclipx productions

You are our mothers, life companions, our comrades in struggle and because of this fact you should by right affirm yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution. We must restore to humanity your true image by making the reign of freedom prevail over differentiations imposed by nature and by eliminating all kinds of hypocrisy that sustain the shameless exploitation of women.”

The first step is to try and understand how this system works to grasp its real nature in all its subtler, in order to then work out a line of action that can lead to women’s total emancipation.

The evolution of society and the worldwide status of women Dialectical materialism has shed light on problems and conditions women face, which is part of a general system of exploitation. Dialectics defines human society not as a natural, unchangeable fact, but as something working on nature.

Human kind does not submit passively to the power of nature, but takes control over it.

This process is not internal or subjectively in practice, once women ceased to be viewed as a mere sexual beings and we look beyond their biological functions and become conscious of their weight as an active social force. In essence the difference between men and women revolves around biological functions, of which women have more functions than men, anyway.

The importance of dialectics lies in having gone beyond essential biological limits and simplistic theories about our being slaves to nature and having laid out the facts in their social and economic context. From the beginnings of human history, humankind mastering of nature was extended beyond his or her bare hands or his or her physical organisation.

The hand reached out to the tool, which then increased the hand’s power.

It was thus no physical attributes alone, musculature or the capacity to give birth for example that determine the unequal status of men and women.

Nor was it technological progress as such that institutionalized this inequality. It was rather the transition from one form of societal evolution to the which institutionalized inequality breeding exploitation of women by men. From slavery, feudalism, capitalism etc. the common denominator has always been the subjugation of women folk.

Frederick Engels explained that for millennia from Palaeolithic to the Bronze age, relations between sexes were positive and complimentary in character. He (Engels) further charged that relations were based on collaboration and interaction, in contrasts to the patriarchy, where women exclusion was generalized characteristics of the epoch. Engels traced the historic enslavement of women to the appearance of private property, when one mode of production gave way to another and when one form of social organisation replaced another. So, for eight millennia property was handed down from a woman to her clan, unlike now where property is from father to son, a historical and contemporary patriarchy.

Humankind first knew slavery with the advent of private property. Man, master of his slaves, land, cattle and in addition elevated himself to be the woman’s master. This was the historic defeat of the female sex. It came about with the appearance of the division of labour as a result of the new mode of production and the revolution in the means of production.

The patriarchal family emerged with the father as head, within this family the woman was oppressed. The family was founded on the sole and personal property of the man. Reigning supreme, the man satisfied his sexual whims by mating with slaves. Women became his booty, his conquest in trade, for he benefited from their labour power and took his feel from myriad of pleasures they afforded him. For their part, as soon as masters gave chance, women took revenge in infidelity. Thus adultery became a “natural” counterpart to marriage. It was the woman’s only self-defence against domestic slavery to which she was subjected. Her social oppression was the direct reflection of her economic oppression.

The status of women will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them. Through the different stages where patriarchy has triumphed there has been close parallels between gender, class and racial oppression.

It is not surprising therefore that in its phase of conquest, the capitalist system should be the economic system that has exploited women the most brazenly and with the most sophistication. The woman, whatever her social rank, was crushed not only within her class, but by other classes too. This was the case even for women who belonged to the exploiting classes.

The Specific Character of women’s oppression

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 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.

We must pay close attention to the situation of women because it pushes the most conscious of them into waging a sex war when what we need is a war of classes, against gender oppression, against racial domination, waged together side by side. This war is one we can and we will win – if we understand that we need one another and are complimentary, that we share the same fate and fate and in fact that we are condemned to inter dependent. In order to win this war women must see themselves as part of an organic whole offensive against retrogression in society, not as a separate entity having to wage a struggle belonging to them alone.

The man, no matter how oppressed he is, has another human being to oppress: his wife. To say this is without any doubt to affirm a terrible fact. When we talk about the vile system of apartheid, for example, our thoughts and our emotions turn to exploited and oppressed blacks. But we forget the black woman who has to endure her husband as well.

There are plenty of examples of men, otherwise progressive who live cheerfully in adultery, but who are prepared to murder their wives on the merest suspicion of infidelity, yet thing nothing of seeking so called consolation in the arms of prostitutes.

There are also those more or less revolutionary militants – who don’t accept that their wives should also be politically active, or who allow them to be provided it is during the day only, who will beat their wives because they went to a meeting or a demonstration at night.

Oh! These suspicious jealous men! Said Sankara. What narrow mindedness!

And what a limited partial commitment! For is it only at nights that a woman who is disenchanted and determined can deceive a husband? What about on ’revolutionary” who will remark on a woman as a “despicably materialist”, “manipulators”, “gossip”, “clowns”, jealous” and so on.

Maybe this is all true of women, but surely it is equally true of men.

When you are condemned, as women are, to wait for your lord and master at home in order to feed him and receive his permission to speak or just to be alive, what else do you have to keep you occupied and to give you at leas the illusion of being useful? The same attitudes are found amongst men put in the same situation.

Gender elitism: another enemy of women’s liberation

The continued oppression of women can as well be worsened by some other women who use women oppression to climb the social ladder. They use the gender ticket for narrow material benefit which has no bearing to the course of women’s emancipation. The different neo-colonial regimes, Sankara wrote, that have been in power in Burkina have had no better than a bourgeois approach to women’s emancipation, which brought only the illusion of freedom and dignity. It was bound to remain that way as long as only few petty bourgeois women from the towns were concerned with the latest fade in feminist politics – or rather primitive feminism which demanded the right of women to be masculine.

Thus the creation of the Ministry of Women, headed by a woman, was touted as a victory. Asked Sankara: “Did we really understand the situation faced by women? Did we realise we are talking about living conditions of 52% of Burkinabe population, away from town in the rural areas? The high and fast life of town has to be normalised to take into account of all women concerned with fighting hunger, disease etc.”

Concluding remarks

There is still more to come regarding this issue. I personally believe that as Africans we cannot change our fortunes until we have empowered our women. Thomas Sankara once remarked that “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky”. BlessedLove

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