ONE Africa Award 2011: Promoting women’s rights in Togo

The 2011 ONE Africa Award process is halfway through — and when the call for applications closed on September 16, we had received more than 150 applications! ONE staff have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing the amazing applications that came in, and I am pleased to announce that we have identified our top five finalists!

Founders and staff of GF2D outside their office
Founders and staff of GF2D outside their office

I have already embarked on a tour around the continent to visit the finalists in no particular order, and over the coming weeks I’ll be unveiling the candidates, one at a time, immediately following my visits to them. I am really excited by the quality of the candidates this year and I am certain the selection committee will have a tough time picking a winner!

My visit with the first organization has just concluded and I can reveal that the first of our top candidates is the Togolese organization, Groupe de refelxion et d’action Femme, Democratice et Developpement (GF2D). This amazing organization was founded by a group of mostly women lawyers almost twenty years ago and uses Togolese constitutional laws to promote the rights of women and encourage their equal participation in democratic governance.

One of GF2D’s tools is the use of paralegals who are trained in Togolese laws by GF2D and empowered to communicate messages to communities about women’s rights, engage in mediations related to marriage, inheritance and children, and offer referral assistance for issues that need to be handled in court. Many of their paralegals are everyday women – traders, seamstresses, mothers, whose lives have been changed because of their paralegal training and some of them have gone on to seek local political positions. These women and men have become well-respected members of their societies because of their knowledge of Togolese laws and their ability to convey the rights of women to their peers in simple messages. GF2D has been integral to the increase in the number of female political office holders in Togo today.

Madam Toublou, a seamstress turned paralegal and women’s activist, trained by GF2D.
Madam Toublou, a seamstress turned paralegal and women’s activist, trained by GF2D.

GF2D has also set up audience centers within popular markets where people can walk in for legal advice and I was fortunate enough to visit one in the biggest market in the Togolese capital, Lome, and see how they work. People came in for advice ranging from questions about how to get birth certificates for children to what to do in the case of a woman not being allowed to access her inheritance by male relatives. The paralegals are also frequently on radio and television programs promoting their work. Not far from the market, I sat in on a national radio program with a station GF2D works with regularly, Nana FM. The station is focused on women’s issues and got its name from a group of Togolese women who were famous in the 1950’s for their wealth acquired from their trade in wax cloth. These women were very influential in the Togolese independence movement and were called “Nana Benz” because of the Mercedes Benz cars they favored! Radio is still the most powerful medium of communication in Africa and Nana FM, whose staff have been trained by GF2D, includes dynamic programs in their broadcasts that help ensure that that information related to women’s rights, development and democracy is conveyed effectively throughout the country.

GF2D’s amazing work has been recognized by the government of Togo and during my visit, the Minister of Women’s affairs was kind enough to meet with me to endorse the work of GF2D. She explained to me that the government has replicated GF2D’s model and has worked with GF2D to train the government paralegals. GF2D has also been critical to the increase in the number of women holding political office in Togo today.

(left to right) Two GF2D staff, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Togo; Edith Jibunoh, ONE; staff of GF2D.
(left to right) Two GF2D staff, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Togo; ONE’s Edith Jibunoh; staff of GF2D.

GF2D recognizes the importance of the inclusion of both men and women in development and understand that unless men and women can equally participate in decision-making processes that determine their access to opportunities, Togo will not fully develop. To this end, GF2D also includes male paralegals in their outreach and ensures that they equally target men whose understanding of women’s rights is just as important and critical to the success of their mission.

We wish GF2D good luck in the 2011 ONE Africa Award and thank them for their hospitality in Lome!

Stay tuned for the announcement of the second finalist………

This post first appeared on the ONE Africa Blog