Thomas Sankara remains one of the most popular pan-African leaders the continent ever saw. He was a man moved by avant-garde ideas that are now even more relevant than they were during his short-lived tenure. Sankara’s Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle tackled issues of women’s emancipation which were and remain important in Africa. Women stood side by side with men in the struggle for independence in African states and yet they find themselves at the fringes of black empowerment. Sankara therefore admonished, “Comrades, there is no true social revolution without the liberation of women. May my eyes never see and my feet never take me to a society where half the people are held in silence. I hear the roar of women’s silence. I sense the rumble of their storm and feel the fury of their revolt.”
Educate the girl child
Global Partnership for Education reported that as of 2015, 28 million African girls between the ages of about 6 and 15 were not in school and many of them would never even set foot in a classroom. Ray Jordan, CEO of international agricultural and development organisation Self Help Africa writing for Huffpost also reported earlier this year that, “…a majority of the 100 million children not in school are girls, and at secondary school level in Africa, far fewer girls than boys complete their education.” The publication also said in Benin, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia, less than 60 girls per 100 boys were currently enrolled in secondary level education.
Sankara identified education as a sure avenue out of the systemic oppression of African women. He argued, “In the ministries responsible for education, we should take special care to assure that women’s access to education is a reality, for this reality constitutes a qualitative step toward emancipation. It is an obvious fact that wherever women have had access to education, their march to equality has been accelerated.”
Thomas Sankara's policies were oriented toward fighting corruption, reforestation, averting famine, and making education and health real prioritie…
Turning to parents, the leader said, “Parents should accord the same attention to the progress of their daughters at school as they do to their sons, their pride and joy. Girls have proven they are the equals of boys at school, if not simply better. But above all they have the right to education in order to learn and know-to be free.”
The message has not yet been fully heeded and yet it remains central to the African feminist movement. There is need to move away from the mistaken belief that educating girls is a luxury for it is a necessity.
Sankara also tackled unfair labour practices which have remained a perennial cause for discontent among women world over. He asked the simple question, “How can we continue to accept that a woman doing the same job as a man should earn less?”
His question exposed a manifestation of gender inequality which does not lend itself to logic. Nothing reasonable can possibly justify the gender wage gap prevalent in most economies of the world. In Africa, the average woman earns 70 cents for every dollar made by a man. Sadly, the United Nations International Labour Organisation predicts that it will take 70 years to close the gap.
When it comes to matters on gender equality including wage gaps, Rwanda is one of the global leaders, beating the US and the UK
With another rhetoric question, Sankara questioned the reasonableness of the whole institution of patriarchy. He asked, “Can we accept the levirate and dowries which reduce our sisters and mothers to common commodities to be bartered for?” The levirate is a marriage in a widow are married off to a brother to the deceased husband.
A 2006 study by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) revealed that payment of bride price was one of the factors contributing to the abuse of women in Tanzania. The association’s findings showed that women alleged they were insulted, sexually abused, denied rights to own property, overworked and made to bear a large number of children due to bride price. 69% of the women interviewed confirmed a relationship between bride price and abuse of women. One woman interviewed by TAMWA said, “As a matter of tradition, she (the married woman) has to obery the lawful wishes and standards of her new family. Unfortunately, this is being overdone by some people who end up regarding a woman as mere property.”
Price tags stuck to women are resulting in their value being diminished to that of property and property has no rights. Sankara prescribed that, “As we go forward, our society should break from all those feudal conceptions that led to ostracising the unmarried woman, without realising that this is merely another form of appropriation, which decrees each woman to be the property of a man.”
He is also remembered for his timeless encouragement for women that they, “should not retreat in face of the so many-sided struggles that lead a woman to charge of herself fully and proudly, so as to discover the happiness of being herself, not the domesticated female of the male.”
Sankara bemoaned the standards of beauty that were being imposed upon women for the simple motive of attracting men. He boldly (and provocatively) asserted, “Comrade Militants, you look after yourselves in order to win a husband.” He had argued that women were mutilating their bodies by piercing their ears and having tattoos which actions were expressions of women’s conditioning that is imposed by society in order to find husbands. Ngozi Adichie, a renowned writer and feminist also brought to question the whole dynamic, saying, “Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”
Thomas Sankara was a man ahead of his own time. He was a forward thinking leader and no wonder his ideas seem even more relevant with time.
Following the trail of Sankara’s thinking, therefore, women should own their beauty. They should decide to look a certain way without having to consider men. In a way, this is retaking ownership of their own bodies. Subjecting the body to all sorts of pain for men was what Sankara found ridiculous and his message ought to be repeated now in a world even more superficial. Fortunately, Thomas Sankara left a message for all women that has been crystallised by its undiminishing relevance, “You hurt yourselves so that men can hurt you even more!”
The revolutionary leader understood the importance of a concept many leaders still find complex: the concept of gender equality. He said, “Conceiving a development project without the participation of women is like using only four fingers when you have ten. It’s an invitation to failure.” There is no reason for women to be denied their lawful right to the fruits of revolutions they actively supported.
As what can be taken to be a parting shot, Sankara said to all women, “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.”