Sankara was a champion of gender equality, saying, “There is no true social revolution without the liberation of women.” He outlawed forced marriages and polygamy, established divorce by mutual consent, widows’ right to inherit and women’s literacy classes. He also supported women’s cooperatives, and appointed women as judges, military leaders, directors of state enterprises and cabinet ministers (a fifth of the total, higher than much of the world then). He even introduced a day of gender role switching, when men went to the market, prepared meals, ran the household, etc., to encourage solidarity and understanding.
Along with all public servants and army officers, he personally laid down railway lines, did farm work, and planted trees. He publicly declared all his assets, kept his children in public school, and rejected relatives seeking state jobs. Sankara publicly admitted mistakes and took corrective measures, and when asked why he banned hanging of his portrait in public places, he said: “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.” A skilled guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself, renamed the country from Upper Volta (a French colonial name) to Burkina Faso (“Land of the Upright People”), and often jogged alone through Ouagadougou, the capital.
A week before his assassination in 1987 (and subsequent overturning of all this reform and progress), he declared, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.” Who was really behind the assassination of this president, revolutionary, pan-Africanist, feminist and anti-imperialist, and what ideas were they trying to kill?
By Rahim Mawji