On February 27, a high-level regional workshop kicked off in Lomé, Togo, with the participation of Ministers of gender affairs and officials from 11 economies from West and Central Africa focusing on the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2014: Removing Restrictions to Enhance Gender Equality report. A welcome dinner prior to the official opening of the event revealed the dynamic nature of gender affairs Ministers – all women – and the common realities and issues facing their nations. Most were meeting for the first time in a unique experience that enabled sharing stories and views about laws, cultural norms and traditional roles within the family in prelude to the official discussions.
The opening remarks at the workshop reflected well the importance of gender equality for the region. In welcoming the event, Mr. Hervé Assah, the World Bank's Country Manager for Togo, noted that “underinvesting in the human capital of women is a real obstacle to reducing poverty and considerably limits the prospects for economic and social development.” Those concerns were echoed by the Minister of Social Action and Women and Literacy Promotion in Togo, Mrs. Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, who highlighted the importance of women’s participation in society and the economy, both in Togo and worldwide. The tone was thus set for this two-day event, which aimed at both highlighting recent reforms enacted by countries in the region and promoting the sharing of experiences, challenges and good practices among the participants in promoting women’s economic inclusion.
There is certainly much to highlight and share over these two days and beyond. Over the past two years, several Sub-Saharan African economies passed reforms promoting gender parity and encouraging women’s economic participation. For example, Togo reformed its Family Code in 2012, now allowing both spouses to choose the family domicile and object to each other’s careers if deemed not to be the family’s interests. Côte d’Ivoire equalized the same rights for women and men, and also eliminated provisions granting tax benefits only to men for being the head of household. Furthermore, Mali enacted a law allowing both spouses to pursue their business and professional activities and a succession law equalizing inheritance between husbands and wives. While the pace of reform has been accelerating in the region, it is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region that has reformed the most over the past 50 years: Restrictions on women’s property rights and their ability to make legal decisions were reduced by more than half from 1960 to 2010.