According to the constitution of the IV Republic of 1992, there is equality between women and men, but the practice – as in many areas – is different.
Apart from theoretical equality, little has been done in the legal system to reduce the disadvantage of women. Added to this is the still high weighting of traditional law, according to which women do not even have to inherit preserve land. Women have significantly less access to education, health care and credit. This systematic disadvantage in the jurisprudence and in the distribution of economic resources still prevents women from being able to free themselves from relationships of dependency on men. In 2018 a law was passed that aims to better regulate land ownership and promote equality for women in this area. While the law represents legal progress, it is highly unlikely that women will have equal access to land and wage labor in the formal sector in the foreseeable future. Young girls work in all the markets in Lomé and children as porters, often in slavery-like conditions.
Despite an earlier national action plan to correct gender inequality (2009-2013), discrimination against women remains widespread. In the UNDP Gender Inequality Index (GII, 0.567, 2017) Togo ranks 140th out of 189 countries.
Overall, the understanding of the roles of the sexes is still based on traditional and religious ideas and is associated with a clear division of tasks. In a study among the Tamberma women, initiation rites and traditional customs in the life of women are described.
Women’s labor is an essential part of Togolese family life. Nevertheless, the man is seen as the sole head of the family who is entitled to all family benefits and ultimate decision-making power. The work of women is often seen as a natural support for men and seldom brings them economic independence. The average school attendance for girls (3.3 years) is only half as long as for boys (6.5 years). As the level of education rises, girls are increasingly disadvantaged compared to boys. Only 26.3% of women (25 years and older) have at least some secondary school diploma, compared with 52.5% of men.
Women are particularly well represented in trade, agriculture and handicrafts, the dominant economic sectors in Togo. According to neovideogames, this is not a new development or could be seen as an indicator of emancipation. Togo’s trade industry was dominated by women with a two-thirds share as early as 1981, when women’s rights were not even a political discourse. The study Femmes Togolaises – Aujourd’hui et Demain, published by the former DED and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, examines the development of women’s rights in Togo.
The important role of women in public life and the small economy stands in contrast to the systematic disadvantage in the judiciary and access to economic resources. This also means that women in particular are dependent on the informal sector, which does not offer long-term protection. To counteract this, women, especially in poor rural areas, are supported with micro-credits, as shown in a film by Unicef.
Women are severely underrepresented in government, parliament and political parties as well as in companies. There are six women ministers out of 26 cabinet posts (2018) and two territorial prefects out of 39 ruled by women. In 2013 the national electoral law was changed, which now stipulates that the lists of candidates must contain the same number of men and women. This change came into effect for the first time in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, the number of female MPs in the new parliament has even shrunk to 15 out of 91 seats. After the parliamentary elections in 2013 there were at least 17 women. On January 20, 2019, a woman became president for the first time in history elected by the National Assembly. The candidate, Chantal Yawa Tségan, replaced Dama Dramani and is also from the ruling UNIR party. In September 2020, President Faure Gnassingbé appointed Victoire Tomegah Dogbe as Prime Minister. For the first time in Togo’s history, the government is now led by a woman.
Even if equal rights for women are becoming increasingly important, especially in Lomé and among the younger generation, discrimination against girls and women in everyday life is still deeply anchored and socially accepted, including by women themselves. Nonetheless, the work of non-governmental organizations and the influence modern media and the Internet have led to women’s rights being discussed at least politically and women fighting for their rights more confidently. In a survey by Afrobarometer in 2014, 86% of the Togoers questioned were in favor of equality for both sexes, but only 62% in favor of legal equality for women in land law. A study from 2016 deals with the role of NGOs in the fight against female circumcision, which was banned in 1998. Today around 5% of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are still affected by female genital mutilation. The early marriage of underage girls is also problematic. More than a fifth of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 6% before their 15th birthday. Forced marriage and forced circumcision are the defining themes in the book Nobody Sees You When You Cry. It describes the authentic case of a young Togo woman who was the first woman to obtain recognition of the threat of genital mutilation as a reason for asylum in the USA.
The polygamy is more or less common in Togo, depending on the region, ethnicity, religion and financial possibilities of a man. However, male infidelity, even in monogamous relationships, is viewed as normal and tacitly accepted by many women. Civil weddings are also still fairly unknown to many Togolese women, which brings them many legal disadvantages if they only marry traditionally.
The NGO Wildaf published a study on rape of Togolese women in March 2013. The government is concerned about the rise in prostitution among young people under the age of 18. The United Nations Fund for the Population of Togo – UNFPA-Togo – supports the government in the fight against teenage pregnancies and the marriage of minors. Since 2009 the ‘Miss Jungfrau’ or the ‘Reine vierge’ has been chosen in Lomé. The organizer, a youth development association (AV-Jeunes), wants to use it to reduce teenage pregnancies and AIDS infections, as well as to provide educational work and promote sexual abstinence among young girls.