YWCA of Togo – acting to reduce violence against women
Recently the state of Togo was on the agenda for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in March 2012 during the 19th Human Rights Council; during the UPR session the government of Togo highlighted the actions they have taken to enhance human rights within Togo. Historically, Togo has challenges in terms of human rights with accounts of torture, arbitrary detention and a very weak judiciary system. Although Togo, has taken steps towards progressing human rights and complying with United Nations conventions, human rights abuses still prevail. It was noted in the UPR discussions that violence against women, children and child abuse, prison overcrowding, poverty, illiteracy and women’s underrepresentation in decision-making bodies, are all of major concern for the UPR community and continue to be a challenge for the people of Togo.
Within this context, the YWCA of Togo conducts much needed work and provides various services for women, young women and girls to develop skills, knowledge and to claim their rights. Since 2009, the YWCA of Togo has run violence against women programmes targeting both women and men. Domestic violence including battering and marital rape are serious problems in Togo; however, as a result of a combination of different social, economic and legal factors, many women are either unwilling or unable to report this violence. The legislation which exists fails to prevent and execute punishment of domestic violence and the police are reportedly ill-equipped to handle complaints of family violence. Domestic violence continues to be regarded as a “private affair” by most law enforcement personnel and members of the judiciary who generally urge women to take steps to reconcile with their abusers rather than lodging official complaints.
In this regard the YWCA of Togo identified the problem of women not knowing their rights and having little or no understanding of the law and how they can use the law to protect themselves, children and family. Therefore, through the violence against women programme the YWCA of Togo trained appointed women to become paralegals and assist survivors of violence and offer guidance in reference to the law. The success of the programme is on-going with sensitisation workshops and awareness campaigns being conducted. In total 3,000 people have taken part in the campaign since 2010, 60% being women, 20% young women (women 30 years old and under) and 20% male. The YWCA of Togo highlighted that in order to combat violence against women, men must be part of the solution because in most cases it is men who are the perpetrators.
In late March 2012, the YWCA of Togo conducted a two day training programme with resources persons, Marlene Phanzu a professional lawyer and the co-ordinator of the Peace Oasis from the YWCA of DRC, Valerie Adzo Assimpah a workshop facilitator and specialist on human rights and violence against women from the YWCA of Togo and Marie-Claude Julsaint the Global Programme Manager of Violence Against Women from the World YWCA. The training took place in the Red Cross centre in the town of Atakpame, in Togo. Women, young women and men from the community of Atakpame all participated in the training.
During the training Marie-Claude Julsaint conducted a session on the role of men and boys in eliminating violence against women. In this workshop participants looked at the traditional roles of men in Togolese society. It was articulated that in order to achieve gender equality the traditional male roles need to be challenged. The discussion highlighted the impact of positive masculinities and positive male role models in eliminating violence against women. Utilising as an example the Bible story in Genesis 39, Marie-Claude illustrated how Joseph resisted temptation and as a man of God decided not to have sex with his master’s wife, even though when he was wrongly accused and this resulted in a strong punishment by his master. In the end, the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. The World YWCA strongly believes in and promotes safe spaces for women, young women and girls, especially in the case of violence against women. The World YWCA also recognises the importance of collaborating with other organisations that work with men.
The YWCA of Togo is using a human rights based approach in their work on violence against women and has particular expertise in law and legal frameworks as a whole. Since the beginning of the programme in 2009, more women are now willingly to come forward and report cases of violence.