Togo Women Anguish for Democracy

farida (1) — By Farida from Togo

In a country of 6 million people, the over half who live in poverty are the backbones of the society: the most abused, the most neglected, the most discriminated against, yet, the hardest workers. 


These women bear the cost of bad governance at all levels. From the difficult conditions in which they deliver their babies on the floor in public hospitals that lack the bare minimum including beds, to working long hours at farms or in the markets just to make enough money so they can school their children that the government has abandoned, to supporting their jobless husbands who officially are the bread winners but are still awaiting a call for an office job at one of the zillion companies they have applied to, these strong, resilient and powerful ladies are the women of Togo. 


In August 2012, they made history and received the long-sought attention on the abuse they have been going through with a 5 decades old regime that only operates through brutality. After protesting every week for 2 consecutive years without having an iota of attention from international medias and institutions to look into the severe human rights abuses that they and their families had been facing, these ladies decided to take action. “A sex strike! Who does that?” – a question I heard a political commentator in the United States ask when the news blew out. Togolese women called for a sex strike on the 25th of August 2012 and it was the very first time in the history of my country that an article reporting an event happening in Togo was published on over 400 news sites in over 80 countries from Australia to Japan, from the United States to Ecuador. Yes! It took a while but I did count every single one of them on Google News.


For the first time, the world paid attention to us. The world listened and questioned the motive behind such an uncommon political action. For the first time, major international medias brought Togo from the “Who Cares Planet” and acknowledged the suffering of its people. As a young 22 years old activist who has been involved in the struggle for democracy in my country from a very tender age, for me that was a victory. None of the hundreds of letters we sent to foreign countries and international institutions ever worked. None of the hundreds of protests we organized in every corner of the world as Togolese in the diaspora ever worked. None of the massive killings and incarcerations our people have been going through were shocking enough for the world to share our pain. It took the self-dignity of our mothers, our sisters and our aunties who had to organize naked protests and call for a sex strike for the world to pause for a second and say, “Oh, this is serious!” And that is the reality we are living in. 


We are living in a world in which women have no voice unless sex is involved and this applies to politics even more. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had 7 million people killed (the deadliest war since World War II) only gained attention in recent years when cases of massive rapes were reported. In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war not because the warlords and rapists are in dire need of sex but because they want attention from the world and they know that violating women is the best and fastest way to get noticed and make a statement. 


The events in Togo left a trail that followed me wherever I went to raise awareness on torture and abuses in my country. People ask me if that’s not the country whose women called for a sex strike. We used to be invisible and would still have been if the women of Togo at some point in their life didn’t feel so powerless that they had to put their cultural values aside and step out naked in front of cameras and discuss the most tabooed topic within their society: sex. At first, I was proud of them. I still am and am grateful for their courage and their sense of selflessness as I know they took such steps for us, the youths, their kids who they so wish to save from the misery and the abuses they have faced their whole life. But after the buzz, I reflected on the whole thing and my heart started aching. It devastates me to live in society that only gives value to what’s between women’s legs. And I hope that someday, the daughter I might have or never have will not need to go that far for her voice to be heard.

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The Strength of Womanhood

Picture1 — By Ejiro from Nigeria

It was the second week in December 1953, warming up for the Christmas celebrations. Daniel and Dorris welcomed their baby girl called Caroline. Daniel was a very handsome man, held a chieftaincy title in his community, and had four wives. Dorris was the second of his wives and he loved her dearly. Unlike other female children at that time, Caroline was fortunate to acquire an education. Daniel was educated and believed education was the legacy any parent could give to their child, regardless of being male or female. As such, all Daniel’s children attended school and attained different levels of education. He was well to do, and provided all thirty-seven of his children with all the pleasures of life.

Caroline was one of Daniel’s favourite children. She was very petite in size but very beautiful. She was soft spoken, brilliant, and loved to study, hence capturing the heart of her father. Caroline completed her A-Levels in a teaching profession and had plans of furthering to the University. She met Clement, a young medical surgeon who had just returned from abroad. He too was tall, handsome, eloquent, and most importantly, very intelligent, which was what captivated Caroline. They fell in love and Clement proposed marriage. He promised Caroline that she would complete her education from his house, as his wife. Blinded by love, with so much trust, she accepted and they got married. She was much envied by her family and friends. She had it all, married to a rich, handsome, highly educated man. Also to add, Clement was the only man  who owned a Jaguar car which was the latest at the time. This was every woman’s dream!

Then reality struck and this bed was not one of roses as Caroline imagined. Her seemingly perfect life gradually began to turn ugly. Her dream of furthering her education was aborted with childbearing and other wifely responsibilities. In addition, she also had to deal with Clement’s frequent anger tantrums, verbal and emotional abuses, and hatred for her family. He never let them visit. She lost everything: her dreams of education, her friends, her loving family, and herself in its entirety. All efforts to maintain peace in this home proved abortive. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was having to share her husband with two other women. Clement married two other wives and life became even worse. She was eventually thrown out of the house heavily pregnant. Clement refused to take her back and that was the end of this unpleasant journey which started radiantly. Caroline who used to be full of smiles, calm, and very charming had evolved into a very sad, gloomy, and unhappy woman with no hope for the future. She was only thirty-one years old at the time.

She swore to never give Clement the last laugh. She gave birth to a set of twin girls and had three girls in total for Clement.

Leaving the children with her mother, when they turned one-year old, Caroline moved to the Northern part of the country with her elder sister. She was determined to rebuild her life and create a better future for her girls. She took back her children and began raising them herself. Enduring so many hardships, from losing her only son to the lack of basic needs like befitting clothes and so on. She opened a small grocery store where she sold fruits, food stuff, and other items. This phase of Caroline’s life she hated so much, because she had to struggle at the farmers’ market to buy her products for the grocery store. This was not the life she envisaged for herself.

Nevertheless, she kept looking forward with so much optimism and support from her family, who never abandoned her at this trying time. Eventually, some ray of light!!! Caroline secured a job with the State’s Civil Service using her A-levels degree, which meant better income and a befitting quality of life for her and her children. She worked there for several years. In pursuit of her dream, at age fifty Caroline enrolled in a university to pursue a degree in Accountancy along with her girls, who were now grown. She graduated the same year as her second daughter, and proceeded to attain a professional certification as a chartered accountant. At fifty-seven, not only was Caroline a chartered accountant, but all her girls were graduates too.

Today, all three of her girls are Masters degree holders and established women in different walks of life. Her oldest daughter is married with two girls also. Caroline like so many women in Africa, weathered the storm with determination, hard work, and indeed God’s grace. She changed the gloomy story of her life to one of motivation for her girls, other women in Africa, and the world at large.

I am indeed very proud to be one of the daughters of this great and courageous woman, my role model and inspiration. She continues to inspire me in the work I do today.

I respect the labour of womanhood and the strength that lies therein. Promoting and protecting the rights of women is my life-long vision and commitment. I believe every woman deserves to live their dreams!

This blog post is also featured on Woman.ng, a website “for the Nigerian woman, by Nigerian women.”

The Last Day of an Abusive Relationship

–By Tsafack Olive from Cameroon

It was a Friday evening, the day had been very quiet. I was visiting my friend Nina earlier during the day. I told her about my worries regarding academics, and also the fact that I had to travel in one week’s time, but how I was afraid my state of health would not enable me to. After about three hours, I left and went for a walk before coming back. Never could I imagine the turning point my life would take later that evening. I had been in that relationship for three years, and the feeling of despair was taking over. 

I had really tried to keep things going, but for more than 4 weeks now, I was thinking there was no need to continue. My boyfriend Steve was a medical doctor, about seven years older than me. After his shift that day, he met me over at Nina’s place. We spent a nice time chatting and laughing with my other friends for more than an hour. Later on, I had to see him off and Nina came along. On our way, I reminded him of the fact that I would be travelling in a week, and he replied aggressively, “I have told you, I don’t want you to travel for that seminar.” When I asked why, he replied, “Because I’ve said so, you don’t need to know why and if you insist on travelling, be aware, that will be the end of our relationship.” I was surprised and asked myself why?

Meanwhile we continued talking and I explained how important it was for me to attend the seminar for my projects. He kept on insisting, vividly, without any good reason, when finally I replied, “In that case, I’m ready to see this relationship end because I am determined to go.” And all of a sudden, it happened, that evening in front of Nina and others passing by, I was slapped and brutalised by the individual I called my boyfriend. It happened so rapidly, in a matter of seconds, that I couldn’t dodge the attack. When I finally got his hands off me, I rushed home immediately. After walking for about 3 minutes, on the ground appeared a shadow, it was Steve chasing me. “Oh my God,” I thought. I started running so fast, and as I was running this thought came to my mind: “Run for your life, because if he catches you, you are dead.” My speed increased incredibly, and after a little while I jumped on a bike, and without giving my destination to the driver, I told him, “Please go with me, or I’m dead,” and the biker did as I said.

Upon reaching home where I was safe, I realized what had just happened to me, what has happened to 1 in 3 women in their lifetime, violence against women. What was really bothering me was that this was the second time. I had the possibility to leaving the first time but I didn’t. I had hundreds of signs; Steve was constantly belittling and looking down on me. This was the result. My dress was torn and my face swollen. Not only was there physical damage and public disgrace, but I was mad at myself because this could have been avoided. But when all my anger was cooled, I said thank God because the most important thing was that I was still alive. I have heard, read, and seen thousands of stories like this, but most of those women were either severely wounded, hospitalized, or even killed.

This incident shaped my whole life unexpectedly. Today, I have used this story to inspire other women to free themselves from violence before it is too late. I am stronger than ever and since then, I dedicate my time to empowering other girls and women who suffer from gender-based violence of all sorts. It’s possible to get out of there, to recover from the physical and the psychological abuses, regain self-confidence, move on with your life, and become a happy and peaceful individual. But to have peace and happiness, you have to forgive, forgive because grudges will never let you go on. 

Two months later, he called me and said he was sorry, that he wanted me back. He added, “I thought you were cheating on me,” and I answered, “I have forgiven you for my own wellbeing, and for the sake of peace, it’s better we stay away from each other.” Honestly, I had never been as happy with him as I am today without him. In such cases, we always have signs, but we refuse to see them, out of interests or feelings most of the time. Relationships are essential in life, but happiness and inner peace are priceless.

Woman; Human

Chinemerem — By Chinemerem from Nigeria

He asked me, “Are you angry?” I said “No. I’m not.” And he said “Good. It’s right that you’re not the kind to get mad so easily. You know, women shouldn’t.” 
And it was this, more than anything else, that got me seething with rage. 
You see,

I can be angry.
I can be careless.
I can be very short-tempered.
I can be aggressive.
•••••
I can be sexually reckless.
I do have feelings – all kinds.
I can be lazy.
•••••
I can be talkative.
I can be disrespectful.
I can be unsubmissive.
I’m capable of hatred.
•••••
I am not perfect.

These are not the best traits, but it’ll be foolhardy to pretend that they don’t exist in me.
It is a disservice to womanhood that the society has conditioned it to be something of perfection, and nothing less.

This desire to be likeable; to please people; to not show anger, even if you’re angry; this need to always smile, even when you’re hurt. All these, stifle our humanity as women. 
I refuse to be perceived as a ‘special’ creature. I refuse to accommodate hurt, just so I can be likeable. I am not sacred. I am human. Just human.

I am a woman; and I’m capable of imperfection!