Empowering Women in Africa

Tostan empowers women to become community and elected leaders through human rights education.

Tostan empowers women who previously had no voice at home and in the community to become leaders. 

This profound change happens as a result of human rights being taught in a way that is related to how people actually live their lives.

Women learn they have the right to voice their opinions, and men learn that they have the responsibility to protect that right. Women begin speaking out for the first time, often on issues that were previously taboo, both with their husbands and in public forums.

When the community understands and recognizes the human rights of women and children, profound changes become possible. 

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Currently, in many rural communities, social norms cause women and girls to be… 

Withdrawn from school
Married against their will in their early teens
Voiceless in the marital relationship and in community decision making
Accepting of intimate partner violence
Restricted in movement and contact with others

Tostan empowers women and girls through human rights education. This becomes the pathway to community-led sustainable development. 

The change is

The effects are

The impact is

The Evidence

When communities form a collective understanding of human rights and agree that…

all women and children have the same universal human rights as men — including the right to live in safety and the right to access healthcare…

commit to the abandonment of female genital cutting and forced / child marriages
women’s active and equal participation in civic life is essential for the well-being of the community…

participate in decision-making, and advocate for their rights and the rights of their children.
women have the right to voice their opinions, and men must protect that right…

in joint decision making within couples (i.e. having a say regarding matters such as birth spacing and sending their children to school)

Strong voices for change

Community Management Committees, the majority of whom must be women, are formed early on in Tostan’s program. These newly empowered women leaders sit side by side with the village chief and the religious leader of the community, bringing women into the circle of power, often for the first time.

As villages make inclusive decisions about which practices lead toward their vision of well-being and which practices take them away from this vision, the lives of women and girls change drastically, often within the first year of the program.

As communities recognize the rights and voices of women, they begin to elect women at the district level and higher, where they can represent the needs of their community when budgeting and infrastructure decisions get made.

Where it is hardest for girls to get an education are
located in sub-Saharan Africa

Urgent action is needed to protect the rights of women and children

Limited access to education, especially for women and girls, presents a serious obstacle to community development in many parts of rural Africa. Only 38% of women have finished elementary school in the rural areas where Tostan offers its programs.

Too many human rights violations are affecting women and children. Victims of domestic abuse experience not only a violation of their right to safety but are often further victimized by limiting their rights to education, employment, or political representation.

Women and girls make up half the world’s population. Yet, without opportunities to voice their opinions and take an active role in decision-making processes, their incredible potential is left untapped, to the detriment of community.

You can help Tostan empower women to create transformative change in their communities. 

Celebrating the achievements of Marième Bamba
Portrait of pioneering leader

Before, my husband would not let me go anywhere, always having to return home each evening no matter what the circumstance,” Marième says. “If she did not return home each night, she would be beaten,” says her husband, Souleymane. Now, she spends time traveling each month to villages in her region as a Social Mobilization Agent (SMA), promoting social norm change and improved health practices. She completed a six month stay in India as a student at Barefoot College. There, she learned to be a solar power production engineer, gaining the knowledge and skills to install and repair solar panels. She continues to maintain solar equipment in her village and surrounding areas.