Thomas Sankara on Why Women Hold Up the Other Half of the Sky.

Lessons from Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle

On March 8th, 1987, Thomas Sankara addressed a rally of women in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and every word of his speech should be repeated across the world for all men and women to hear.

He digs out the roots of African women’s oppression and lays out the reasons and ways in which the revolutionists must and can fight to eradicate this oppression. In this small illuminating book, Sankara pays attention to the different spheres of the injustice against women.

In his overall message, he stresses how the revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women, and that the hope for a positive transformation of our society is heavily affected by the fight for women’s liberation. Without this fight, the revolution for Africa loses its meaning.

The liberation of women should not be an act of charity as their condition in society is at the heart of the question of humanity itself. Nothing lasting can be accomplished for as long as the subjugation of women exists.

He reminds us of how women followed men in order to care for and raise all that they care for. This self-sacrifice has been massively exploited by men. Sankara dives into the subject of class exploitation and its parallelism to women’s oppression. He reminds us to pay attention to the fact that in addition to class exploitation, under which men and women are subjected, women also have to deal with particular exploitation from men. The man can be as heavily oppressed as possible but he still has another human being to oppress – the woman.

He confronts men on many issues that need to be changed. One of them is that men will take a woman’s particular attributes and use them against her, such as her tenderness, her love for her family and loved ones, the meticulous care she applies to her work, and her other most moral and delicate qualities. The irresponsible husbands who use up their wages on mistresses and only serve to make bars and brothels richer. He also makes a good point on prostitution: that in order for it to exist it needs the pimp and the “prostitute”, and that the men who frequent these places, using women and discarding them, are the ones who will keep their wives and girlfriends in a “pure” position while frowning upon the others. A partial form of respect, which is actually no respect for women at all.

Sankara demands that women be placed at the front lines and given full responsibility. They need to be involved on all levels when it comes to organising the life of the nation as a whole. Society should stop keeping women away from anything that is serious and of consequences, it should stop limiting them to petty and minor activities. In entrusting women with more meaningful responsibilities, men should also give their respect and be more considerate.

Other crucial points he makes are those concerning the differences in the way children are raised. The boy is taught to be assertive, to speak up, to be served, to desire and take, and to decide things on his own. The girl, on the other hand, is confined to a psychological straitjacket and is taught to seek male protection and supervision.

He challenges the specific oppression against married women, single women, and educated women. The married woman is subjected to mind-deadening and all-consuming housework which leaves her with little time and energy to think and engage in anything of consequence. Sankara questions the men who don’t accept their wives being politically involved and taking up bigger social roles. The narrow-minded, jealous, vain, banal, pitiful, and insignificant men.

Society should put an end to ostracising the single and unmarried woman and wanting to push her to become the property of a man. The educated woman should not be viewed as a suspect and socially deemed as unable to secure a man. We should stop passing merciless judgment on educated and independent women, and condemning them to eternal singlehood. He says that “if the marriage brings society nothing positive and does not bring them happiness, it should be avoided.” Marriage should be a choice that brings something positive and not a lottery to be won.

He calls for the transformation of mentalities, for both men and women. He urges women to be allowed to show society its flaws for not having confidence in them, on the political and economic level. It’s a necessary task for women to change the image they have of themselves too, and for men to also change their attitudes towards women, both are needed.

Quotes:

  • “Women assure the continuity of our people and the destiny of humanity.”
  •  “Every proud man, every strong man, draws his energy from a woman.”
  • “Women need men to win. And men need women’s victory to win.”
  • “At the side of every man, there is always a woman.”

It’s Not About the Burqa

Mariam Khan, freelance writer, editor and feminist, has compiled essays from seventeen Muslim women in the UK, who challenge some of the stereotypical views we have about Muslim women and their communities.

How many of us look at Muslim women and think of oppression, silence, abuse and misogyny? I read this book because I wanted to hear from the Muslim woman herself, and It’s Not About the Burqa, though not representing ALL Muslim women, shed light on many issues I had never thought about. Issues that a lot of us do not care to consider. The women in this collection speak about feminism, racism, sex, sexuality, faith and other issues that concern Muslim women in the West.

Some of them take us through a journey of how they found their voice, and how they shed identities that were given to them by the communities they came from and the ones stamped on them by the rest of society. Sufiya Ahmed shares her experience of discovering Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwalid, who was not a silenced and oppressed housewife, but rather a successful businesswoman and the wealthiest merchant in Mecca at the time. Not only do you find such stories in the history of Islam women, but the essayists share how the Quran, contrary to the spread laws or rules of tyrannising women, supports and empowers women.

What I found the most interesting is how these Muslim women discuss the balance between identities, and how they’re expected to only be one thing, get rid of one to become the other. Things such as being queer and Muslim, being feminist and Muslim or being black and Muslim. I had never thought about it that much but it made me realise how mainstream feminism can be so damaging instead of freeing. For example, one essayist discussss how feminism talks about equality and liberation of all women, and yet will expect a Muslim woman to choose between her faith and being a feminist, which becomes pointless because it is doing the very thing it claims to fight against.

There’s also so much about how representation of Muslim women has gone wrong, in the way that it’s done by fashion designers, or on magazine covers, where what they are doing is representing a Western model and ideal of a hijabi. There is also the idea of representing only what Muslim women look like but when they have to speak for themselves, their vocal representation is not given a platform.

It’s Not About the Burqa also challenges members of their communities themselves, to stop doing things that give the rest of the world the wrong perception of the religion, giving them even more armour to attack their identities and their faith. They do not deny the existence of things such as misogyny, as they do exist in so many other cultures and religious communities.

I appreciate the honesty of the essayists in admitting their inability to speak for all Muslim women, because it’s impossible. They’re all different, from different communities and with different experiences and cultures. However, as Muslim women they should be able to create a platform where Muslim women are not spoken for. We cannot say Muslim women are silenced by their religion yet not give them a platform to speak.

This is a well written, edifying, enlightening and empowering book. It’s also light, you can breeze through it, it doesn’t burden you with complaints and noise. No, it’s bold and it challenges the narrative about Muslim women.

I want to say feminists will love this, which they’ll do, but I think anyone with good sense and who wants to see all people given a chance to be fairly represented, seen and heard will enjoy this.

It’s really not about the burqa, or the hijab, abaya or dupatta. It’s so much more.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Examining Women & Power with Mary Beard

“We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”

― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

If we reach into the depth of mankind’s history we see how in many parts women and power have been two separate entities. Power has been seen through a male lens and when women have tried to take the power that belongs to them, it has raised such discomfort that men have often gone to great lengths to prevent it. Women have had to take a subordinate role and there have been laws, rules and social constructs to keep them there.

However, we have made a bit of progress although a lot still needs to be done. In some parts of the earth, she is progressively pulling up a chair and actively sitting at the table. Sadly, there are still many societies where women’s voices are still muted and women are completely excluded from power.

In this profound examination of these concerns, Mary Beard demonstrates how modern misogyny can be detangled and linked back to classical themes where women were heavily prejudiced. She revisits the classical Greek and Roman work of literature, giving examples of stories of women who are the embodiment of these prejudices. The parallelism of ancient literature to the modern times shows history often recurring in different spheres – politics, economics, etc.

Her focus on the silencing of women points out, amongst many, how public speech was one of the ways of defining masculinity, and so to have women speak in public has often provoked aggression. Beard strives to find answers to how women can be heard.

She also scrutinizes the gap between women and power and takes on an angle which surpasses simply knowing and laying out the stats. She takes on an analytical approach and forces you to think about the why and the how. How is misogyny embedded in history and in cultures? How do we confront these issues? She challenges the definition of power, by asking, “If women are not perceived to be within the structures of power, then is it power that we need to redefine?” Another example of power that she zooms into is that of masking inequality by placing women in so-called positions of power when those positions are possibly where power is not.

“I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.”

‘Women and Power’ is a sharp and illuminating read that matters, and should be read. I applaud her for her ability to knit so many important and agonizingly true points in a compact and stimulating package that leaves you with something crucial to carefully reflect on.  

You will enjoy this book if you want to hear a more pragmatic approach to gender inequality and sexism. Also, if you want more than the statistics, more than just calling out sexism but also explaining it.

Enjoy ✌


Title: Women & Power: A Manifesto

Author: Mary Beard

Publisher: Liveright, 2017

Hardcover pages: 128