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.”