Girls’ Education in Benin

Benin had set tremendous precedence after The Cold War ended by being one of the first African nations to democratize. Its successful democratic system has since allowed Benin to achieve relative economic stability; however, it still suffers from high infant and maternal mortality rates as well as women’s illiteracy.

Barriers to Girls’ Education in Benin

Girls’ education in Benin has been hindered by factors such as illnesses, extreme poverty and illiteracy. As the world becomes more and more technologically driven, the economic development of a country is directly affected by low levels of literacy. Poverty, coupled with the high costs of education, creates limited opportunities for girls to acquire a quality education in Benin and succeed in life.

Other major issues that Benin is facing regarding education are the high rates of teacher absenteeism and the limited resources to effectively manage the educational system. Along with these overarching issues, Beninese girls are disproportionately burdened with traditional gender roles. The traditional division of domestic labor typically calls for girls to stay at home and work, which has led to the traditional belief that an education is irrelevant to a girl’s reality. In Benin, the male literacy rate between the ages 15 and 24 is about 55 percent while the female literacy rate in the same age group is about 30 percent.

Improvements to Girls’ Education in Benin

An education population serves as the backbone of every nation. In Benin, improvement has been their top priority. The former president of Benin, Yayi Boni, took very important steps in developing the national education system and ensuring that girls had the resources they needed to go to school by enacting certain measures between the years 2006 and 2013.

A few of President Boni’s measures included ensuring free and universal primary education for all children, tuition support for girls pursuing a secondary education and partial support of enrollment fees for girls who are in industrial science and technology fields.

Partnerships for Education

International organizations such as the United Nations, The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF have all worked with the government of Benin to ensure that girls’ education in Benin is prioritized. Thus far, these partnerships have produced impressive results.

The United Nation’s main objective with this initiative was to mobilize the government of Benin and develop partners to improve the quality and availability of education, confront traditional gender norms surrounding girls’ education in Benin and help economically struggling parents afford the direct and indirect costs of school.

In 2016, the GPE approved a $428,794 grant for Benin to develop its education sector. This plan was implemented in 2017 and is set to end in 2025. The Education Sector Plan Development Grant will allow Benin to conduct a sector-wide analysis of the educational system in Benin.

UNICEF and Big Sistering

A creative UNICEF-supported program called “Big Sistering” was also established in Benin to make the typically long walk from home to school a little more enjoyable. The older girls who are considered “big sisters” not only make sure that the younger girls get to school every day but also have the added responsibility of advocating for the importance of going to school.

If a girl does not come to school one day, it is the big sister’s duty to find out why and report it back to the headmaster. Big sisters also keep a lookout for girls who are not enrolled in school and encourage them to attend. Often times, parents keep their girls home from school to work on farms or tend to animals. In these cases, the parent-teacher association contacts the parents in hopes of finding ways to overcome these barriers.

Through the collaboration of international organizations and the government of Benin, gross enrollment rates for primary education rose from 93 percent to 121 percent, the primary school completion rate increased from 65 percent to 77 percent and gender parity has almost been achieved.

To support these developments, Benin plans to continue its efforts in increasing the education budget. Increasing the budget will not only improve access to secondary education but also the quality of learning and equity at all levels of education.

– Lolontika Hoque

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in BeninCredit access in Benin is a complicated issue that activists, governmental organizations and foreign aid groups have been working to improve for several years. 

Development Credit Authority

There are a few different ways that organizations have approached the issue. One method, incorporated by the U.S. Agency for International Affairs (USAID), involves improving Development Credit Authority (DCA). The program is designed to allow residents to apply their credit to projects for improving health and agriculture.

Through DCA, more than 500 guarantees have been made with USAID by financial institutions. These have resulted in up to $4.8 billion in private financing, creating opportunities for more than 245,000 entrepreneurs worldwide.

The Microcredit Program

Credit access in Benin is an issue that the local government attempted to solve as well. In 2007, the governmental set up the Microcredit Program, which allowed people to take out loans for individual success and enterprises. It was designed to improve credit access across the country.

Credit access can affect poverty rates as well, giving people a chance to start new. Loans majorly affect a person’s ability to be successful and achieve personal goals.

Credit Access in Benin for Women

The World Bank recognizes in an overview of Benin’s finances that poverty in the country has a history of being unequal between genders. Women are more vulnerable and have fewer economic opportunities despite a lower poverty rate. Female-led households in poverty are at 28 percent in the country, while male-headed homes are higher at 38 percent. 

Economic opportunities such as the opportunity to participate in personal economic goals or business endeavors can be improved by credit, increasing the accessibility of economic opportunity for women.

Risks to Credit Institutions

Despite foreign aid efforts and the government working to improve credit access in Benin, the issue is still a complicated one and improvement is difficult due to the way that credit has been established in the country.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), several risk factors are present regarding the way credit institutions have been established and overseen in Benin. Government involvement, government bonds and the shallow financial market are risks to the success of the banking system and credit access in Benin. According to IMF, “The recent government plan not to pay back short-term bank loans, but to issue long-term bonds instead would not only deepen banks’ exposure to sovereign risk but also aggravate liquidity risks due to a sharp change in the maturity structure of the affected banks’ portfolio.”

As the government works to improve the credit system and the management of government loans and bonds, credit access in Benin may change. USAID and other groups will continue to look for ways to improve credit access in Benin. The DCA program is only one way activists are working on improving the issue and financial analysis from organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF will be useful going forward for people looking to make a change.

– Gabriella Evans

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in BeninBenin’s road and bridge network was initially built in the 1990s with vast economic and sociopolitical expansion in mind. The government of Benin wanted to connect all rural and urban areas to enhance overall national development by connecting everything and everyone together with an expansive and intricate network of roads and bridges. Infrastructure in Benin was a key element to accomplishing this goal. It would provide all areas of the country with basic needs, including education, electricity, potable water and better communication.

Unfortunately, this goal of integrating the entire country through a quick and vast spurt in road and bridge networks led to the creation of inadequate structures that often make travel along them inefficient. It is easy to travel across the entire country within a matter of hours, but many of the roads were so poorly built in the first place that they have suffered from rapid deterioration, making travel along them nearly impossible.

Road maintenance is another impediment to safe and passable infrastructure in Benin, being practically nonexistent in most rural areas. Some roads are only passable during certain periods during the year, and even then, only by vehicles obtained at high operating costs. This creates imperative issues during periods of planting and transportation of supplies in rural areas.

Poor maintenance has created increased travel and vehicle costs, heightened accident rates and has promoted the further isolation of rural areas. This last issue is particularly threatening: with increased isolation in rural areas, the possibility of obtaining a decent education and health services decreases.

Approximately 93 percent of goods, including those brought in at ports, are sent along this faulty road and bridge network. Economic growth depends on this system, with raw goods, finished products and information all being transported. Infrastructure in Benin faces massive challenges to its proper and safe expansion. The roads and bridges are a pivotal aspect of maintaining and supporting the country’s continually growing population and economy.

Of the 4,660 miles of road in Benin, only 20 percent are paved, the remaining 80 percent being dirt or mere tracks that are mostly impassable. Creating a uniform road and bridge network within infrastructure in Benin is imperative and the country has allocated funds towards this goal. Of the $452 million spent per year on road rehabilitation and expansion, however, nearly $101 million is lost to inefficient management.

This mismanagement of funds is due to constant changes of chairmen in the local and national branches of government. Every time the chairmanship changes, so do the government’s priorities in infrastructure in Benin. Despite this mismanagement, Benin has rebuilt some roads and bridges, expanding them further into rural areas for greater integration.

– Kayla Rafkin

Photo: Flickr

humanitarian aid to BeninIn 2005, more than 20,000 people fled from Togo to Benin after the extreme violence surrounding the presidential election in April. Since then, humanitarian aid to Benin has been constantly increasing in an effort to educate, feed, house and provide medical support to as many refugees as possible. Commissioner Louis Michel of Benin’s humanitarian aid department is responsible for the distribution of the €1.05 million allotted for humanitarian aid, which comes through its partnership with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Of the 20,850 people who fled to Benin, more than 13,000 were granted asylum in small communities, while the remaining 7,400 lived in refugee camps in Comé and Lokossa. The last of these refugees were moved to the settlement of Agame in 2006, completing the successful placement and consolidation of refugees since they first entered the country and closing the camps in Comé and Lakossa.

Demands for humanitarian aid to Benin rose again in 2010, when more than 680,000 people were forced to flee their homes after severe flooding from heavy rains. In response to this crisis, under-secretary-general for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said, “The loss of homes, livestock, clothing, agricultural tools and seeds will have devastating and long-lasting effects for many people, and that is why, with the government of Benin, we have launched this appeal for urgent assistance.”

Benin’s government and multiple aid agencies launched the Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan, requesting $46 million in foreign aid. The Cooperative for Assistance and Emergency Relief Everywhere (CARE) focused on providing food, water purification and sanitation services to combat the increasing threat of a cholera outbreak in the aftermath of the flood. Benin constantly struggles with providing adequate healthcare and sanitation services as one of the world’s poorest countries.

Unfortunately, despite providing clean water and soap mosquito nets, in addition to other supplies, CARE’s humanitarian aid to Benin barely made a blip on the radar of other countries. Many assumed it was simply another flooding season and did not express much concern for Benin, which normally has periods of heavy rain.

Over 1.6 million people in Africa have suffered the effects of heavy rains, but Benin received the worst of it, according to the Department for International Development. Humanitarian aid to Benin has seen the successful provision of tents, food, water and medical supplies to all displaced citizens and refugees wherever possible and, with the help of the Red Cross of Benin, has provided for the basic needs of all.

– Kayla Rafkin

Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in BeninTwo-thirds of the world’s illiterate population is female. This alarming statistic is, unfortunately, higher in Africa. However, many African countries have decided to tackle the problem and are now planning on improving women’s education. Benin is a great example.

With nine million inhabitants, Benin is one of the most stable countries in Africa, but also one of the poorest countries in the world. With this poverty comes great gender inequality.

Thus, even if Benin’s constitution guarantees gender equality and even prohibits gender discrimination, ancient customs and traditions are still huge obstacles to women’s empowerment in Benin.

However, it has been proven that societies benefit from women’s empowerment, and associations are now intervening to encourage women’s empowerment in the country. One of the key priorities has been to help promote women in decision-making positions, but also in different sectors such as introducing them in civil society organizations.

One of the ways to improve women’s empowerment in Benin is to help women become financially independent through savings and loan groups to help them run their own business.

Most of the time, the loans are used to invest in their cultures: buying seeds, cattle and tools to increase their productivity. Within these groups, women have also access to a solidarity fund, which can be used in case of emergencies in issues concerning their business, but also in everyday life, such as paying tuition or hospital fees.

“I strongly believe in the use of saving and loans groups to empower rural women in Africa, as I have seen thousands of lives transformed not only in Benin but also in Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia, using this methodology,” says Gaelle Demolis, U.N. Women Fund for Gender Equality Programme Specialist for Africa.

Recently, a new way to push women’s empowerment in the country has been created through theater. The plays have one aim: engaging community members in important women’s issues like domestic violence or child marriage. Most of the time, after the performances, a panel discusses the various challenges embodied in the plays. Thanks to this new psychological approach, women can discuss their problems without fear and in an accessible way. Women’s empowerment in Benin seems to be on a path to progress.

– Léa Gorius

Photo: Flickr

Five Development Projects in BeninIn Benin, 40 percent of the country lives below the poverty line. The conditions force residents of the country to migrate on a regular basis. The country’s increased investments in infrastructure and sustained economic growth rate highlight its potential to move in the right direction. Below is an overview of five development projects in Benin that could help the country reduce poverty.

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Additional Financing

One of the ways for a country to reduce poverty is to invest in agricultural programs. This project allows Benin to invest more heavily in its agriculture, as it will restore and improve productivity. It will also support the promotion of improved technologies and the development of production via water management.

Public Investment Management and Governance Support Project

This project will help reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. The World Bank has issued a $30 million credit to Benin that will better facilitate the efficiency and management of this project. Their aim is to enhance good governance, accountability and promote more transparent management of public funds.

Small Town Water Supply and Urban Septage Management Project

About 22 percent of the country does not have access to adequate drinking water. The Small Town Water Supply and Urban Septage Management Project will increase access to water supply and sanitation. It will also strengthen the service delivery capacity of water supply and sanitation as well as prepare an effective response to potential emergencies.

Energy Service Improvement Project

This project will improve utility power performance and expand access to electricity to various areas across the country. It also aims to promote community-based management of forest resources. Investing in infrastructure is important to build up an economy, so this project, among other development projects in Benin, is extremely important.

National Community Driven Development (CDD) Project

The CDD project has provided grassroots management training. This has helped contribute to the decentralization process and strengthening of both local government and community capacities to better plan and implement development projects. Under the project, 81,000 children have enrolled in school and 10,000 people have gained access to a clean water supply.

These development projects in Benin have the capability of reducing poverty in the country and improving the lives of the individuals who reside there.

– Dezanii Lewis

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Benin
Benin, a country of 9.4 million people and 113,000 square miles, is known to  be one of the most stable and inclusive democracies in Africa. The country has seen consistent GDP growth over the past two decades, between 4 and 5 percent annually, with even higher rates in 2013 (7.7 percent) and 2014 (6.4 percent). However, political stability and economic growth have not lessened the poverty rate in Benin. Instead, the country’s poverty rate has been rising.

Despite the GDP, Poverty Rates are Climbing

In 2006, the poverty rate in Benin stood at 37.5 percent, dropping slightly to 35.2 percent in 2009. It then began to rise again, reaching 36.2 percent in 2011 and 40.1 percent in 2015.

How is it that GDP growth has gone hand-in-hand with rising poverty rates?

Economic Vulnerabilities

Twenty-five percent of Benin’s GDP is based on agricultural production. Environmental factors, like drought and severe weather conditions, affect the economy’s predictability and stability. Additionally, production tools are outdated, infrastructure is inadequate, and financing is absent.

Benin’s economy is largely dependent  on informal re-export and transit trade with Nigeria, which makes up about 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Informal labor employs over 90 percent of the country’s labor force and makes up roughly 65 percent of the overall GDP. According to the World Bank, “events in Nigeria can have considerable impact on Benin and create uncertainty in its fiscal space.” African Economic Outlook has reported that the recent economic slowdown in Benin is in part due to lower growth in Nigeria.

Recent Attempts at Reducing Poverty

Benin has been formally trying to fight poverty since 1999. In 2000, the country implemented the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (I-PRS). It  then enacted the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS 1) for 2003-2005, the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS 2) for 2007-2009, and most recently the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS 3) for 2011-2015.

These strategies aimed to bolster the rural economy, control demographic growth, reduce gender inequality, strengthen basic infrastructure, and enrich a microcredit policy–especially for women. Some progress has been measured, with Benin’s Doing Business ranking moving from 158th in 2015 to 155th in 2016.

Building a Diverse Economy from Within

With reliance on Nigeria and agriculture, Benin has the opportunity to improve its business environment from within, becoming more attractive to domestic and foreign investors. Increasing access to credit and infrastructure, such as electricity, will also be key in generating and sustaining business development.

Continuing its efforts to ensure the equal geographical distribution of resources, including access to health and education, and increasing economic opportunities for women will be instrumental for Benin to overcome the steady level of poverty its people have been facing.

 

Joseph Dover

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Benin Refugees
Benin is a French-speaking West African nation, home to the Vodun (Voodoo) religion, established in 1960. Benin is a country in which Beninese have fled their own country to seek asylum in other countries, while also accepting refugees from neighboring countries. Here are 10 facts about Beninese refugees:

  1. The Beninese government cooperates with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers on their rights and basic needs within Benin.
  2. U.N. agencies in Benin joined efforts with the Beninese government to provide refugee-hosting families with assistance and to reinforce social infrastructures such as schools and health facilities for the new arrivals.
  3. In 2016, 710 people fled Benin and applied for asylum in other countries. This corresponds to approximately 0.007 percent of all residents of Benin.
  4. The most desired destination countries for Beninese refugees to flee have been Italy, Germany and the United States. The most successful refugees from Benin have been in Canada and in Italy.
  5. Refugees have put in applications for asylum in Italy, Germany, the United States, France, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa, Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Spain and Morocco. However, overall, 96 percent of these asylum applications have been rejected.

While many Beninese people left Benin, many people have also sought out Benin to seek asylum from their own countries.

  1. More than 200,000 Togolese (from Togo in West Africa) have gone into exile, while most reached neighboring countries such as Ghana and Benin seeking asylum.
  2. After the recent election in Togo, a total of 26,154 people left Togo and sought asylum in Ghana and Benin, according to the United Nations.
  3. Due to the influx of Togolese refugees into Benin, the country urged the international community to send $6.5 million in aid.
  4. According to the United Nations, most of the refugees in Benin are “living with family and friends, with UNHCR providing transport for new arrivals who wish to stay with relatives.”
  5. In 2015, there were 530 refugees in Benin, which was a drastic drop from prior years.

The mid-2000s brought a surge of Togolese refugees into Benin, while at the same time some Beninese sought asylum in other countries. As of 2016, the number of refugees in Benin had drastically dropped and continues to stay at a low amount. These 10 facts about Beninese refugees show how political situations affect a number of asylum seekers.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

Benin Poverty Rate
Even with 15 years of rising poverty, child trafficking, famine and corrupt government officials, Benin is in a perfect position to turn itself around.

Despite an annual GDP growth rate of four to five percent over the past 20 years, the Benin poverty rate increased from 28 percent in 2002 to 40 percent in 2015. The country currently ranks 167 out of 187 countries on the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index. As a result, 29 percent of children are malnourished and the life expectancy is only 55 years. If Benin does not improve and expand its economy, it could be in trouble. The country is not prepared for the oncoming massive entry of young people into the workforce. Roughly 45 percent of its population is under 15.

Rural areas are responsible for the high Benin poverty rate. Roughly 50 percent of the country’s population relies on small-scale agriculture for employment. However, poor seeds, poor farming materials and famine caused by global warming ensure malnourishment and poverty.

Widespread corruption is another problem in Benin. The country has harsh libel laws that are used to intimidate and imprison journalists. The country is ranked 95 out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index.

These problems lead to many parents trafficking their children in harsh conditions in Nigeria. The parents often feel forced to do this because of a lack of food and crippling debt. Accounts include boys between the ages of 8 and 10 made to swim to the bottom of polluted lakes to collect sand for cement. For each canoe filled with sand, the boys make one dollar.

The Benin poverty rate is high; despite this, the country is in the perfect position to turn itself around. The country has one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Since 1989, it has held six presidential elections, seven legislative elections and three local elections, all of which were peaceful. This is partly because a courageous press keeps tabs on the government despite intimidation. According to the International Press Institute, Benin has one of the region’s “most vibrant media landscapes”.

Recently, the government has started to introduce reforms. The government has made child trafficking punishable by 20 years in jail. In 2016, the government adopted Government’s Program of Action, an ambitious development program dedicated to improving productivity and living conditions in the country.

If the government is truly dedicated to bringing down the Benin poverty rate, conditions will certainly improve. No more children will be trafficked. Poverty and malnourishment will end. However, it all depends on the Benin press and the international community putting pressure on corrupt politicians to actually work for the people.

Bruce Edwin Ayres Truax
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in BeninBenin is a small West African nation located just west of Nigeria. The first African nation to successfully transfer power from a dictatorship to a democracy, Benin continues to be one of Africa’s most solid democracies. This democratic stability has contributed to constitutional and legal rights and protection of human rights in Benin.

Despite the various protections afforded under the law, there are still some challenges regarding human rights in Benin.

  1. Major issues with prison conditions plague Benin. The most notable issue is overcrowding. A 2015 report from the NGO Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin found inhumane conditions in 10 civil prisons, including significant overcrowding, malnutrition and disease. A delegation from the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture found similar congestion issues during inspections conducted in January 2016. Legislative attempts have been made to address overcrowding. A new community service law was adopted in June 2016 to reduce congestion through non-detention sentences. New penal code regulations requiring a person to be presented to judicial authority within 48 hours of their arrest have also contributed to improved prison conditions.
  2. Issues with police have also been widespread in Benin. Police in the country is under-equipped and poorly trained, despite efforts to expand infrastructure and equipment. Corruption is an issue in the police force, with police extorting money from people at roadblocks. There have also been issues with impunity following police violations and abuses. While citizens can file complaints, their immunity often simply leads to direct presidential involvement to solve problems.
  3. Problems with corruption extend into the government. While there are criminal penalties for corruption, the law is often applied ineffectively, allowing some officials to engage in corruption without penalty. The court system is also highly susceptible to corruption. Transparency International reported that the judiciary in Benin is the weakest of 13 different Beninese institutions with regards to corruption. Inability to enforce corruption laws due to lack of independence of the judiciary plays a significant role in the presence of corruption in Benin.
  4. Violation of women’s rights persists in Benin. Despite the constitutional assurance of the equality of women, discrimination in political, economic and social spheres continues due to societal attitudes. Specific practices include discrimination in hiring, credit, equal pay and business ownership or management. Domestic abuse is present, often going unpunished. Additionally, female genital mutilation is widespread in Benin, occurring on girls and women from infancy to age 30, with a majority of instances occurring before age 13. While the practice of female genital mutilation is mostly happening in northern rural areas and carries harsh legal penalties, the continuation of the practice is a major violation of human rights.
  5. Children’s rights have seen some growth in Benin, with legislation implemented to fight trafficking, abuse, child labor and discrimination. Growth has also been seen in health and education. However, numerous concerns are still present in these areas so much improvement is still needed. Despite NGO campaigns, infanticide is still a major issue in Benin, forced early marriages occur in the country and female genital mutilation is also a problem affecting girls and young women. Even with laws present to protect against these issues, impunity for perpetrators is widespread.

The Takeaway

Active steps are being taken, especially in the form of legislation, to protect human rights in Benin. However, a major theme that can be seen in the country is the failure to effectively implement many of these laws, leading to impunity in the face of violations. Proper implementation and follow-through of appropriate punishments for violations will be a major step to protecting human rights in Benin.

Erik Beck

Photo: Flickr