So You're Going to Togo...

This blog answers the following questions:

  • So I know the Peace Corps, like, helps people but what do you do exactly? 
  • Why does Togo request the presence of the Peace Corps?
  • Why address gender in Togo?
Let's begin. Peace Corps has a range of programs and most intersect each other. Some are related to improving the health of communities, providing agricultural support, and strengthening the economy. I am an English and Gender Education (EGE) volunteer. English education is teaching English. Gender education is encouraging equality and equity between men and women in Togo. Through teaching, I also support and help train other teachers. We have all heard of people going abroad and teaching English in another country. However, you may not have heard of "Gender Education" or why its important. This blog seeks to explain how these initiatives may help Togo.

According to UNICEF (2002), girls formed the majority of the 120 million children who never go to school in the developing world. A UNESCO global report found that gender parity remains a distant prospect in 54 countries including 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (UNESCO, 2004). I have found that women must be empowered to participate effectively in decision making at every level of Togo’s development process if the country wants to make substantial progress economically, politically, and socially. In human speak, it's really sad that so many children do not have access to an education and that girls have a harder time attaining that. There needs to be some damage control or else the entire Togolese population, male and female, will be held back.

History of education in Togo

Colonial powers first introduced Western education to West Africa. The goal for girls and women was to prepare them for their domestic roles. On the other hand, boys were trained to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families (Graham 1971). This is not surprising if one thinks of the mentality of the late 1800s to mid 1900s.

In 1887, German missionaries began a formal education system in Togo. In 1924, the colonial French government introduced a new educational policy in which French language was the foundation. This policy was reflected in the primary schools which were present in most towns and villages. Females were given separate schools where they were mainly taught sewing, washing, ironing, and personal hygiene (Bunche, 1934).

Ten years following independence, in 1970, the Togolese government introduced six year compulsory education policy which was free and applicable to children between the ages of 2 and 15. Nearly all primary school-aged children were attending school by 1996 with only 27% continuing on to receive secondary education (UNICEF, 2003).

Primary school 

According to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and Literacy (MEPSA— Ministère de l’Enseignement Primaire, Secondaire et de l’Alphabétisation) data on the 2010–2011 school year, 86 percent of children aged 6–11 attended primary school (91 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls). These rates are partially due to the elimination of tuition fees at public primary schools throughout the country. However, the education system is unable to shoulder the financial burden of free public education on other levels (IMF, 2014).

Regarding the primary school completion rate, about 25 percent of children do not complete it and  50 percent of girls do not finish primary school, compared to 20 percent of boys. Of girls who finish primary school, 30 percent do not enroll in secondary school, compared to less than 20 percent of boys. Girls are more prone to drop out than boys. The dropout rate is 9.7 percent (8.9 percent for boys and 10.6 percent for girls) and varies greatly among regions, ranging from 11 percent to 13.2 percent. Depending on the region the child lives in, there is more or less access to education causing disparities. So, in some regions many children attend school while in others most do not. Vulnerable children, those with disabilities (roughly 75,000), street children, or child laborers (primarily in urban areas where boys work in the markets and girls as domestic servants), are the majority who do not attend primary school.

In the class room, there is an unfortunate student to teacher ratio (44/1) and the average class size is 43 pupils. In urban areas, some classes can have 100 plus pupils which has an effect on those averages. In 2011–2012, on average 33 percent of students had suitable reading textbooks while 46.5 percent had suitable math textbooks. The situation is worse in EDILs, where 11 students share one reading or math book. Reading skills remain low and underemphasized in curricula (IMF, 2014). MEPSA data, reports that 22 percent of students who complete primary school repeat at least one grade which signals inefficiency.

Lower and higher secondary school

In lower-level secondary education (middle school), significant regional and gender disparities stem from shortages of suitable environments for students and teachers, and of qualified teachers in general. The enrollment rates at the middle school level for boys and girls are 41 percent and 58 percent respectively. Compare those rates to the primary school rates of 91 percent and 81 percent. The access rate to the first year of secondary school is 45.7 percent for girls and 69.2 percent for boys. That means that over 50 percent of girls do not have access to secondary education.

According to MEPSA data, on average just over 50 percent of 12-year-olds reach secondary school and slightly over one-third of that 50 percent complete the first year. The retention rate remains too low at 62.8 percent in 2011. According to MEPSA data, the junior high school certificate pass rate (BEPC—Brevet d’Etudes du Premier Cycle) ranges from 59.2 percent in the Plateaux region to 78.7 percent in the Kara region, with a national average of 62.8 percent. In terms of personnel, 25 percent of teachers are volunteers without the necessary academic credentials.

Quality and internal efficiency deficits hinders higher secondary education (high school). This subsector suffers from:
1. low enrollment rates: 12 percent for girls and 34 percent for boys for a national average of 21 percent;
2. a high repetition rate at 34.5 percent in 2011 (Education Sector Review, July 2012), and
3. a low retention rate at 74.3 percent in 2011.

In other words, boys outnumber girls by 5 to 2, over one-third of students have repeated at least one grade, and 80 percent of Togolese boys and girls will not enroll in a high school. The secondary school curricula of most schools are based on the 1975 reform, thus outdated, and do not take new pedagogical practices or emerging issues related to sustainable development into account. In terms of staffing, volunteer teachers account for 20 percent of the teaching body. This proportion varies from 30 percent in the Plateaux region to 10 percent in the Maritime region. All these factors affect outcomes in this subsector.

A note on education rates

Though there has been a rise in education rates, one should consider that the population is growing (IMF, 2014). Between 1981 and 2010 the total population rose from 2,719,567 to 6,191,155. Average annual growth is 2.84 percent. Women constitute the majority of the county's population at 51.4 percent. It is also projected that while enrollment in school of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa increase the retention rates are subject to decrease due to early marriage and teenage pregnancy (Sunal, 1998).

Various initiatives by governmental agencies and outside agencies have been enacted to increase and accelerate women's education rates. For example, UNICEF and its local partners trained voluntary literacy trainers; hired daycare personnel and provided resources and partial payment for school fees for males, and more so for females (UNICEF, 2003). Another prime example, is the Peace Corps training and employing volunteers such as myself!

Despite our efforts, there a still a number of challenges to the retention of females in school in Togo. Sossou and Tuwor (2008) found that "the root cause of low retention of girls in school as compared with boys is due to gender inequality and discrimination against women in general due to patriarchal systems of social organization and other socio-cultural practices of early marriage, child slavery, and foster or trafficking of children, poverty, multiple household duties, and a lack of economic and social opportunities." Traditional practices such as early (by western standards) and forced marriages of young girls to elderly men, lack of female role models, trafficking of young girls to work as domestic servants, and simply low self-esteem are a several factors which inhibit girls. Girls are married young and put to work in positions which are not mentally stimulating. They are rarely exposed to independent mothers or women influencing modern society. For example, they don't have the privilege of being exposed to and influenced by the likes of Carmen Perez, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Hillary Clinton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Rosa Parks.

Cultural practices, religion and gender

In Togo, the legal age for marriage is 17 for girls and 21 for boys. According to Monekosso (2001), about 27% of girls between 15 and 19 years old have been forced into early marriages. In Ghana and Togo, a religious practice among Ewe tribes called trokosi is a fetish practice in which young virgin girls are sent to fetish shrines as slaves to atone for the sins and crimes of their relatives who are usually already dead . These crimes range from petty thefts to infidelity to murder. It is not uncommon for the girl to be sexually abused and impregnated by the custodial fetish priests in the shrines (Brooker, 1996). For those of you fearful for my life, I will not be exposed to such practices and I am not aware of how common this is. However, the Ewe community does make up a very large portion of Togo. 

Many of the traditional roles of women which were mentioned above in  reference to colonial times persist now. Women are expected to be doing domestic work, and when they do bring in an income, the man generally takes the liberty of spending it as he pleases outside of the home (Monekosso 2001).

Economy, poverty and gender

It is worth noting that the legacy of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) also hinder Sub-Saharan Africans and Sub-Saharan women. These are programs that were implemented by the IMF and World Bank to revitalize the economies of sub-Saharan Africa. The intent was to make them more competitive on the global market. However, it is widely known and accepted that they contributed to chronic poverty, lower living standards and lower life expectancy. The IMF acknowledges this stating, "At the beginning of the 1980s, because of macroeconomic imbalances characterized by structural budgetary and external deficits, Togo adopted structural adjustment programs (SAPs). Although the SAPs allowed the country to stabilize its finances and improve its macroeconomy, they produced significant imbalances between the economic and the social, specifically a reduction in economic growth and worsening of poverty."

Subsequent to the SAP, parents were faced with the challenge of providing for their families. Girls were forced to withdraw from school to generate incoming by selling products in markets (Obasi, 1997). IMF plans now include correcting the retrogression caused by the SAPs (IMF, 2014). Additionally, in the 1990s Togo experienced a period of severe social, economic and political disruptions. Thus, the country adopted and adjustment strategy in 1994 which was also intended to boost the economy and support sustainable growth. The national poverty rate decreased from 61.7 percent in 2006 to 58.7 percent in 2011 (IMF, 2014). As you may assert, poverty leads to hunger, malnutrition and a lack of education. Gordon et. al assert that women bear the disproportionate burden of poverty, and their children are often permanently disadvantaged (2003).

Closing Remarks

You have now read a history of education in Togo and why women in particular need support. This is all to make clear that attaining gender parity, equity, equality, and universal education will be critically hampered if there is not a widespread change in the mentality of Togolese people regarding the importance of women in nation-building and economic development. If the society is informed of the importance of education for all, women especially, this could lead to economic, political, social inclusion, and increased participation of women in all spheres of their society (Sussou and 2008). Put in other words, culture is the total product of a people's 'being' and consciousness' which is derived from the ways the grapple with nature and living in their collective group (Ogundipe-Leslie, 1994, p. 25). One may argue that in this case their is a culture of oppression of women which needs modifying. As are valued beyond current levels literacy rates will increase, children will grow more knowledgeable by the generation, women and children will have greater agency in their society, and both man and woman will prosper.

This was not a light read and it was not intended to be. It's an important subject that is rarely discussed and I take it seriously and I take my position seriously. I do not wish to go to Togo to have a story to tell. This is actually a story I would rather not have told. I am going to Togo because I feel a desire and a duty to. I can't change the world, but perhaps I can help change a couple of people's worlds.

To answer the questions:
So I know the Peace Corps, like, helps people but what do you do exactly?
I teach english and I support gender equality through education

Why does Togo request the presence of the Peace Corps?
Well, for one, they find that volunteers may support their education system and for two, they hope to support women through our initiatives.

Why address gender in Togo?
The same reason we address gender in the United States. Women deserve an equal chance.

Broker, E. (1996) Slaves of the fetish, New England International and Comparative Law Annual, 4, 53-72.

Bunche, J.R. (1934). French education policy in Togo and Dahomey, Journal of Negro Education, 3(1), 69-97.

Graham, C.K. (1971) The history of education in Ghana: from the earliest times to the declaration of independence (London, Frank Cass).

Gordon, D., Nancy, S., Pantazis, C., Pemberton, S. & Townsend, P. (2003) Child poverty in the developing world. (Bristol, Policy Press).

IMF (2014) Togo: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. (Washington D.C., International Monetary Fund.

Monekosso, T. (2001) Africa's forced marriages. Accessed May 9, 2017.

Obasi, E. (1997) Structural adjustment and gender access to education in Nigeria, Gender and Education, 9(2), 161-177.

Ogundipe-Leslie, M. (1994) Recreating ourselves: African women and critical transformations. (Trenton, Africa World Press).

Sossou, Marie Antoinette and Theresa Tuwor (2008) Gender discrimination and education in West Africa: strategies for maintaining girls in school (University of Kentucky, College of Education and College of Social Work).

Sunal, C.S. (1998) Schooling in Sub-Saharan Africa: contemporary issues and future concerns (New York, NY, Garland).

UNICEF (2002) The state of the world's children (New York, UNICEF).

UNICEF (2004) Educating girls and women: a moral imperative (New York, NY, UNICEF).

UNESCO (2004) Education for all: the quality imperative (Paris, UNESCO).