In Burkina Faso, women continue the spatula uprising. The struggle continues.


Last October, Burkinabé women picked up their spatulas and took to the streets, calling for the end of one-party and one-man rule. As women and as members of Balai citoyen, Citizen Broom, they charged the State with “a constitutional coup d’etat.” And they won, and ever since they’ve been organizing. On Wednesday, the military took control of the government, and the women have kept on organizing. Once again, they have taken to the streets, spatulas in hand.

Unable to organize in Ouagadougou, the women brought broomsticks and spatulas to the streets of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of Burkina Faso and the country’s economic capital. Once again, they demanded a clean sweep. Once again, women inspired others to principled, militant action.

Saran Sérémé, president of the Party for Development and Change, noted, “We must fight for the nation’s well being and for justice. The Burkinabé people are ready to defend ourselves, whatever the cost. We find the situation deplorable. We will not bow down to anyone.”

In Bobo-Dioulasso and across Burkina Faso, the women agree. They will not bow down, and they will stir the pot. In October of last year, hundreds of women marched, chanted, carried spatulas, and sparked an uprising, a spatula uprising. On Tuesday, tens of thousands marched in the streets. On Wednesday, a general strike was called, and soon after, the regime was swept out of power. The women did not put their spatulas away and they did not forget how to use them. The struggle continues.

Burkinabé women know the struggle continues. Women like Joséphine Ouédraogo, Genevieve Zongo, Mariam Sankara, and thousands of others know how to maintain the long march and the short sprint to democracy, while across Burkina Faso women hold on to their spatulas.


(Photo Credit 1: Twitter)

In Burkina Faso, the women continue to push for justice and transformation

In October, women carrying spatulas took to the streets of Ouagadougou, and sparked an uprising that finally overthrew Blaise Compaoré. With spatulas and brooms, they pushed open doors and windows that had been long closed. Thomas Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, called for a real investigation into the circumstances of her husband’s death. Joséphine Ouédraogo, a minister in Sankara’s government, was appointed Minister of Justice. This week, Ouédraogo announced that she will re-open the investigation into the murder of Norbert Zongo, a prominent journalist who was killed in 1998. Genevieve Zongo, his widow, has been pushing for an investigation for the past sixteen years. Now, at last, as a result of women’s organizing, that investigation will take place.

In December 13, the anniversary of Norbert Zongo’s murder, Genevieve Zongo told the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered to demand justice, “I demand that that the perpetrators be arrested and judged for the full extent of their crimes.” Burkinabé women never stopped demanding justice, for their loved ones, for themselves, for the strangers who had been imprisoned, tortured, murdered.

As a militant feminist, trade unionist, and journalist, Genevieve Zongo never gave up on the struggle for justice. First, she tried the Burkinabé courts. Then, in 2008, she launched the Ten Years campaign, and went international. In 2011, Zongo took her case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in Arusha, Tanzania. On March 28, 2014, the Court “concluded that the Respondent State, Burkina Faso, failed in its obligation to take measures, other than legislative, to ensure that the rights of the Applicants for their cause to be heard by competent national Courts are respected. The Respondent State … failed to act with due diligence in seeking, trying and judging the assassins of Norbert Zongo and his companions. Hence, Burkina Faso simultaneously violated Article 1 of the Charter by failing to take appropriate legal measures to guarantee the respect of the rights of the Applicants pursuant to Article 7 of the Charter.” The Campaoré administration did nothing in response.

But that’s all changed now, thanks to the persistence of women, the road to justice and democracy is being built. Some of the women – like Mariam Sankara, Joséphine Ouédraogo, and Genevieve Zongo – are well known. Others are not. But the women’s message across Burkina Faso is clear. The years of impunity are over. Women with spatulas and brooms and elbows and voices and dreams and aspirations and demands are pushing for more. Thanks to these women, a new day is dawning, and hopefully not only in Burkina Faso.

(Photo Credit: AFP)

Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn to democracy

Joséphine Ouédraogo

For some, it’s the end of the year, and so a time for reflection and celebration. 2014 has been a year of brave, inspiring young feminists. It has also been a year in which women, young and old and in between, have pushed out long-standing rulers and sparked the process of State transformation. In Burkina Faso, women sparked a revolution with their presence in the streets and their raised spatulas. Joséphine Ouédraogo was there, as she has been for decades.

A number of commentators have identified Burkina Faso as a bright spot for the year, even though they seldom, if ever, recognize women’s role in that brightness:

For protesters in Burkina Faso who have known only one ruler for the last 27 years, 2014 was a very good year. The peaceful overthrow of Blaise Compaoré at the end of October was a victory for democracy.”

Large segments of society were demanding the benefits of genuine representation. Democracy could not be reduced to a facade while old authoritarian networks remained. It was a striking warning to other African autocrats who might be tempted to stay in power indefinitely.”

Over the course of a couple of days in late October, an awe-inspiring display of people power in Burkina Faso forced President Blaise Compaore to scuttle into exile, his tail firmly between his legs. It was a humiliating exit for the man who had ruled Burkina Faso since 1987 … This was a magnificent example that power is not immutable; that people can be in control of their own destinies.”

Call it Spring, call it harmattan, women’s protests led to mass protests led to hope and the promise of democracy. Inside Burkina Faso and around the world, people spoke once again of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina from 1983 to 1987, when he was assassinated. In particular, people were reminded of Sankara’s commitment to women’s emancipation. He wrote and spoke of women’s liberation often: “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.” More to the point, Sankara acted. His government outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; encouraged women to work outside the home; encouraged girls and women to stay in school, even if pregnant; promoted the distribution of contraceptives. Finally, he appointed many women to high governmental positions. Joséphine Ouédraogo was one of those women.

During the Sankara years, Ouédraogo was Minister of Family Development and Solidarity. Every attempt to transform women’s status and place in Burkina Faso came out of and was implemented by Ouédraogo’s office, including State support for the Women’s Strike of 1984.

When Sankara was overthrown and murdered, Ouédraogo went into exile. She worked as a consultant on development and gender. She continued to work as a sociologist, researching areas that others overlooked, such as the role of women heads of households in rural Burkina Faso. In 1997, Ouédraogo became Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, followed by a stint as Secretary General of Enda-Third World, based in Dakar. In both positions, she spoke forcefully and directly of the central position of women in any program to improve the world or any of its parts.

And now, Joséphine Ouédraogo is back in Burkina Faso, and back in the government. She is a self-described militant feminist and militant anti-globalization activist, and she is now the Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso. From 1987 to the present, Joséphine Ouédraogo never forgot the revolution she had helped start, and she never tired of working to create the new spaces for militant democratic practice and for women’s emancipation. As she has known all along, the two need each other. And today, Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn has been a key part of the Burkinabé women’s spark that set off a revolution.

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