Last November, Girls Not Brides sponsored Mayi Gnofam to attend Tostan’s community-empowerment training to learn how they had successfully engaged communities across West Africa to tackle child marriage.
Mayi is the director of PAFED, an organisation that defends women’s and children’s rights in Togo. Child marriage is a big issue in this West African country: 22% of girls there are married before the age of 18.
Back in Togo, Mayi brought together twenty community activists to a workshop to share what she had learnt from Tostan. The meeting was a chance for the group to reflect on, and challenge, the ways in which they work within communities to transform social norms and behaviours around child marriage. Here are some insights from their conversation.
Listen to and empower communities
Tostan’s approach puts communities at the heart of ending child marriage. It focuses on understanding a community’s norms and values and empowering them to define a positive vision for girls and women.
This was also one of the main takeaways for the activists at the workshop. Many reflected on how they had worked with communities to date – more top down than participatory. They left the meeting with new ideas about how to empower communities to lead social change.
Put more women in positions of power
Community management committees (CMCs) are key to Tostan’s approach. Democratically elected men, women and youth, set a vision for the community, coordinate local projects and mediate conflicts as they arise. Tostan’s CMCs are always made up of 17 individuals, of which nine must be women. The group in Togo saw the CMCs as critical to tackling discriminatory social norms but recognised that achieving a gender balance may be a major challenge in the contexts in which they work. They agreed that improving the representation of women in local decision-making is an important first step towards better addressing child marriage.
Don’t wait for funding
With funding for grassroots organisations so scarce, civil society should not let a lack of funds limit their ambition to create change at the community level. The project facilitator at NGO CREUSET – Togo admitted: “Even with limited funding, many things can be done when activities are led by the community”. The workshop energised participants to start collaborating and seek funding later, but together.
Bring journalists on board
The workshop helped introduce local and national media to the issue of child marriage and the importance of holistic community development. Agence Togolaise de Presse (the national Togolese press agency) reported on the workshop in its daily press briefing and Centrale FM Radio (a local radio station in Sokodé) interviewed PAFED about the community-empowerment approach.
Keep the conversation going!
Participants asked to receive the workshop presentation so they could share it and apply the lessons learnt within their communities. At Girls Not Brides, this is the kind of conversation that we hope to spark and nurture at all levels. So that each member organisation can have a ripple effect of their own and make ending child marriage everyone’s business.
About child marriage in Togo
- 22% of girls are married before their 18th birthday in Togo, and 6% before their 15th
- As with many countries, lack of education and poverty mean parents are forced to make difficult decisions and often marry their daughters at an early age. Marriage can be seen as the next best alternative for girls without an education, and a way to alleviate a family’s expenses.
- The Togolese Ministries of Education, Gender and Health have developed a National Programme Against Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy. For more information, visit the Togo country profile.
This blog relates to Goal C "Communities" of Girls Not Brides' 2017-2020 strategy. The goal is about ensuring efforts to engage communities, families and girls are supported and highlighted. Find out more.
In the time it has taken to read this article 39 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds