In response to a brief profile of Tostan, a reader on the website Goodreads recently emphasized the importance of educating women. A common question asked of us is Why does Tostan’s nonformal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) engage women and men, girls and boys? Why don’t we focus exclusively on women?

At Tostan, we pride ourselves in being a learning organization, which means that we will make adjustments to our program if a certain initiative or approach is not as effective as we know it can be.

With that said, the first version of the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) was designed for female participants exclusively. While the program was effective in educating and empowering the women and girls who participated in the program, it also caused some distrust and tension in families when wives and daughters came home with new ideas about rights and responsibilities – ideas to which the their husbands, fathers, and other male family members had not been exposed.

When Tostan facilitators communicated this issue to leadership, Tostan shifted approaches and redesigned the program to include both women and men, adolescent girls and boys. In doing this, male and female participants learned about their human rights (as opposed to only women’s rights or children’s rights) and then in turn became advocates in their communities for the rights of both women and men. This shift has led to a human rights movement that is spreading across West Africa and parts of East Africa. To date, over 6,000 communities in eight countries have publicly abandoned the traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage because of such community-wide discussions of human rights.

Click here to read more about Tostan’s CEP. To read about how empowered individuals are improving their communities and leading social change, please click here. We feel that the work of our partner communities to date is a testament to what is possible when we move towards a shared vision of education as a right, fully supported for all, by all.


Luzon Pahl Kahler
Director of Administration, Tostan