Alagi Yorro Jallow

No one can read the works and words of Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara and fail to conclude that the late president of Burkina Faso was a certifiable feminist.

From his unmistakable ode to women “Women’s Liberation the African freedom struggle” to the collection of his speeches “We are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions”, there is no mistaking the high stead onto which the go-to icon of many – mostly men revolutionists and activists – place/d womenfolk.

One cannot read the section titled “The Specific character of women’s oppression” (p30-34) in the former title and not conclude that Sankara viewed efforts to liberate women, not as “acts of charity or out of a surge of human compassion, but a necessity for the revolution (against colonialism and classism) to triumph.” (Back of the book).
In Sankara’s view, the fate of women is “bound up with that of the exploited male.” (p30).

The assassinated revolutionist goes on to explain that the interdependence between the fate of men and that of women is a function of the human condition i.e. that both men and women, at some point, in history, have been exploited. This perspective, reality in my opinion, thus makes the idea that one (should) lord over the other patently ridiculous.

And while both genders in most oppressive system, say colonialism or apartheid or even the current exploitive socio-economic and political system in the Gambia, are bound to suffer in silence by default, the woman is doubly-condemned to suffer because of the patriarchal structure of these societies including the Gambia. To this end Sankara offers that “in addition to the class exploitation that befalls both (men and women), women must confront a particular set of relations that exist between them and men….” (p30)

Class and its close cousin patriarchy have allowed men to maintain their domination over women. (p31). These are the same sets of dynamics some men have used to rule certain/other men, by virtue of family, race, religion or perceived “divine right”.

By failing to see this construct, men (and some women) end up talking about “the war of the sexes” and/or “toxic femininity” without understanding (or refusing to understand) the origin/basis of the “conflict” or dislocation between the sexes i.e. between men and women.

Effectively, what Sankara is arguing is that the so-called “battle of the sexes” is the war between social groups and classes that should be waged together with men and women complementing each other.

Unfortunately, the insatiable and selfish desire to maintain the status quo; to exact a zero-sum winner-take-all outcome that is all too common in most (African) societies makes the more desirous complementary outcome between the sexes difficult if not outrightly impossible to achieve; a state of affairs Sankara is only too ready to call out and assign blame: “The attitude of men.” (p31)

The terms “toxic feminism” or “feminazism” are default tropes trotted out by men; mostly born into privilege/entitlement and patriarchy; who for some strange reason, cannot countenance the foregoing truism – that the “battle between the sexes” is a battle between social groups and classes.

The resultant oppression and/or violence – literally and metaphorically – towards women are, to quote Sankara “nothing more than safety valves for oppressed males who through their wives (and female counterparts), hope to gain some of the human dignity denied them by the exploitive systems” they’ve either created and lost control of OR refused to stand up to!

Considering the recent high-profile murders of young women – one who I wrote about – and the resultant self-flagellation that ensued – especially among men but also some women, it was fortuitous that I came across Sankara’s take on the mostly “blame-the-victim” narrative of supposedly enlightened forward-thinking men.
And I quote: “Remarks such as ‘women are despicably materialist’….’profiteers’….’liars’….’schemers’….and so on may all be true but surely it is equally true for men”. (p33) ……”

One cannot look at the behavior of men, African men/leaders who have perfected the art of despicable materialism, wanton profiteering, outright lies and scheming; men whose jealousy and envy led them to commit untold atrocities against single or myriad victims and wonder what gives them the right to cast aspersions on others; on women who also lie and scheme during their jealous pursuit of materialism.

To quote Hillary Clinton, a woman who has been characterized in the very terms Thomas Sankara alludes to in his book, “women’s rights are human rights” and the sooner all societies realize that, the better off they’ll be.