Togo is a country in West Africa that borders Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin. The nation gained independence from France in 1960, and has a population of 7.89 million people. Despite the country’s success in phosphate production, more than 50% of the Togolese population lives below the poverty line. Togo is considered a “Least Developed Country” by the United Nations.
The extreme poverty that exists in Togo disproportionately affects women, as they are not granted equal opportunities for work and education. Togo ranks 115th of the world’s 129 countries on the Sustainable Development Goals’ gender index, which measures each country’s gender equality in terms of the sustainable development goals. These goals include access to education and health, among others, as well as addressing the prevalence of gender-based violence. Despite the many difficulties that still exist in almost every sector of daily life, there have been significant improvements for women in Togo over the past few decades.
5 Improvements for Women in Togo
- The maternal mortality rate decreased. The rate declined from 489 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 396 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Togo’s decline in its maternal mortality rate is largely due to the efforts of nonprofits working to improve access to and the quality of healthcare. In a partnership with World Centric, the nonprofit Integrate Health provides training and education to nurses and midwives and employs Community Health Workers to provide health services on the front lines in Togo. The organization also improves the management and infrastructure of existing clinics and removes user fees that prevent many Togolese people from seeking healthcare. Across 13 clinics, Integrate Health intends to “perform 20,497 pre- and post-natal consultations and 2,862 facility-based deliveries.” Additionally, since Community Health Workers are predominantly women, Integrate Heath also provides economic opportunity and medical training for Togolese women.
- The adolescent fertility rate declined. The rate decreased from 130.17 births per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in 1985 to 88.69 births per 1000 in 2018. Togo is making significant strides in educating its youth about contraceptives, as 410,000 young people now participate in a sex education program. These are significant improvements for women in Togo. The Association Togolaise Pour Le Bien-Etre Familial (ATBEF) is a nonprofit organization that has been working in Togo since 1975 in the sexual and reproductive health sector. ATBEF aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality by organizing mobile health clinics and going door-to-door to discuss the benefits of contraceptive use. Additionally, ATBEF reached more than 870 villages in Togo that chose to sign onto protection charters that safeguard girls from gender-based violence, encourage them to finish school and teach village chiefs about the importance of educating young people about contraception. Since ATBEF began working in the Haho health district in 2011, the use of contraceptives doubled.
- Education for women increased while the overall fertility rate decreased. The steady decline of women’s fertility from 7.21 births per woman in 1980 to 4.32 births per woman in 2018 could be a result of increased education efforts. As women become more educated and countries become more developed, fertility rates decline. Although there is still a disparity between male and female literacy rates, female literacy rates increased from 38.5% of literate women over the age of 15 in 2000 to 51.24% in 2015. Additionally, youth literacy rates for females increased from 63.5% to 78.37% in 2018, indicating that younger women are receiving more education and may be less likely to have many children or to become pregnant as teenagers.
- Employment opportunities increased. In 2019, 88.79% of Togolese women were reported as self-employed. Additionally, Togo’s Labour law, passed in 2006, prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender and allows for up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave with job security. However, husbands can still limit women’s choices to work and have control over their finances according to customary law. Nonprofit organizations such as CARE are working in Togo, and across West Africa, to empower women as participants in the economy. CARE’s Women on the Move program encourages women to join savings groups, in which women pool their savings and loan each other money to start businesses or to pay for healthcare and education. Women on the Move empowers women by educating them about their economic rights and mobilizes women across West Africa with a goal of improving their socio-economic status. The program aims to reach 8 million girls in West Africa by the end of 2020. As a result of influence from Women on the Move, the Togolese government planned to include savings groups in the national financial inclusion strategy.
- Child marriage decreased. Togo is one of the many countries in West and Central Africa to experience a decline in child marriage, with a 2% average annual reduction rate. Additionally, Togo has the third-lowest number of girls married between the ages of 15 and 18 in West and Central Africa. Although the government has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, 600,000 Togolese girls today are still married in childhood. To eliminate child marriage, the government will need to work to ensure that girls stay in school and are educated about their rights, as many girls are still taught that violence against them by their husbands is justified. Girls Not Brides, a global partnership with the mission of eradicating child marriage, works in Togo to develop country-specific strategies that encourage governments and communities to take action.
These five improvements for women in Togo depict the country’s steady progression toward gender equality. Togo’s improvements in healthcare, education and economic opportunities for women contributed to a higher female life expectancy, which rose from 54.29 in 2000 to 61.61 in 2018. However, Togo must continue to address the problem of child marriage, as it is still legal for families to marry off their daughters to receive a dowry. Although the legal age for marriage is 18 in Togo, marriages can be arranged before the age of 18 with parental consent. There is still work to be done in Togo, to reform laws in order to give women more power over their marital choices and educate parents about the harm child marriage can have on young girls and their futures.
– Melina Stavropoulos