In support of the Global Citizen Festival, we will post a story each week during the month of September featuring Tostan’s commitment to Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3), ‘Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women’ in the series MDG3 in Action.

After posting stories about successes achieved by communities and individuals in the areas of human rights, health, and economic development, we would like to devote this final ‘MDG3 in Action’ to the roots of gender equality and women’s empowerment: education.

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment through Grassroots Education 

At the heart of Tostan’s work lies the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a nonformal three-year education program fundamentally based on the values of respect, inclusion, and participation. Over three years of classes and social mobilization events, communities spread knowledge, skills, and attitudes throughout their social networks fostering a cooperative environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute to their own development.

Throughout the program, gender equality is continuously promoted as essential to a community’s collective well-being, and each module looks at gender from a different perspective to enhance participants’ understanding of the issue.

A CEP participant presents the right to health at the launch of the Peace and Security Project in Kolda, Senegal.The CEP begins with human rights, including the right to express ones opinions, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to work. In many rural African communities, women were traditionally discouraged from expressing themselves in public and participating in community decision-making processes. With new knowledge of human rights, men and women alike begin to question traditional practices and become more open to women’s participation in decision-making.

After learning about everyone’s universal human rights, CEP participants learn about health and hygiene, focusing on the importance of prevention and reproductive health. Tostan uses non-judgmental language to approach taboo topics, such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. CEP participants begin to question these traditional practices because they pose threats to certain human rights. The open dialogue created often leads gradually to the collective abandonment of harmful practices in a Public Declaration.

Adolescent girls in the Fouta region of northern Senegal meet to discuss the negative consequences of FGC.FGC and child/forced marriage pose severe health consequences and keep girls from staying in school and reaching their full potential. With the abandonment of such practices, women and girls are empowered to seek education and employment, allowing them to contribute to the social and economic development of their communities.

Adji Diaw runs her own restaurant in Keur Sanou, Senegal.With an understanding of human rights, health, and hygiene, communities are able to identify problems and appreciate the need to include everyone in their development projects. The final module of the CEP gives participants the concrete skills necessary to lead their own initiatives, beginning with literacy in their own language and basic math skills. They then learn project management skills, such as how to create a budget, calculate expenses, and make long-term action plans.

The emergence of women as leaders, the abandonment of harmful practices that hinder girls’ development, and the economic empowerment of women would not be possible without the foundation of education provided by the CEP.

At Tostan, we believe that change comes from within. Gender equality and the empowerment of women cannot be achieved without addressing issues at their source. With the education of individuals at the grassroots, whole communities collectively make decisions in favor of positive social change.

To learn more about Tostan’s work with Millennium Development Goals, visit our website.

Story by Matthew Boslego and Alisa Hamilton, Communications Assistants, Tostan