In contrast, in Togo, a marriage officiant has to tell spouses their legal rights and duties. It might not be the most romantic start to a marriage, but there is plenty of time for romance later. A recent training of marriage officiants conducted by Groupe de réflexion et d’action Femme, Démocratie et Développement (GF2D), showed participants that the family book—an identification document received upon marriage—must be placed in the hands of both spouses. It may seem like a small symbolic gesture but it is so much more than that.
Just two years ago, marriage officiants in Togo would have given the family book to the husband, as he was the head of the household (a legal designation giving him authority to make key family decisions). But in 2014, the position of “chef de famille” (or head of household) was removed from the law, putting spouses on more equal footing. Togo’s head of household reform followed a host of other legal reforms towards greater gender equality. In 2012, Togo had updated its legislation to allow both spouses to jointly choose the family home and to legally object to each other’s working if they felt it was not in the family’s interest. Prior to this reform, husbands unilaterally picked the family home and could even prevent their wives from working.
The training for marriage officiants came on the heels of a World Bank workshop with GF2D and the Association des Femmes Juristes de Côte d’Ivoire (AFJCI) in Lomé. The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law team held the workshop to help Civil Society participants understand how gender unequal laws can have economic consequences.
Togolese participants learned how to successfully implement legislative reforms from their Ivorian counterpart. They were also interested in learning how laws can prevent one spouse from selling property without the consent of the other. Togo does not have such protections for wives, whereas Ivorian law requires spousal consent for property transactions. The workshop provided fertile ground for sharing experiences and discussions around such protections. Participants also were keen to learn how to protect the property rights of women in informal unions or customary marriages.
South-South learning has a vital role to play in promoting legal reform. Women, Business and the Law is well placed to facilitate such exchanges as a repository of comparative law.
I was lucky that I got married in Washington D.C., and not in Cameroon where the husband alone has the right to administer marital property. Togolese women can similarly take heart. With legal reforms to promote gender equality, and concerted efforts to inform women of their marital rights, soon the Togolese will be carrying forward South-South learning to promote gender equality.