The concept behind the women’s conference originated with a single women’s group in the Plateau region of Togo. These women started meeting regularly as a forum to discuss health and financial issues. They also began incorporating yoga and meditation practices into their meetings. Feeling the strong sense of community created by their time together, the participants began to wonder what could happen if more women had access to a similar forum. Over time, and with the encouragement of local Peace Corps Volunteers, the project evolved into a national platform that engages women from across Togo in the development of their communities.
With diligent work from three Peace Corps Volunteers and financial support from USAID, 27 motivated women from the Plateau region participated in the first Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference in May 2011. During the conference, women discussed topics ranging from self-confidence to family planning. They learned how to make natural beauty products and received cookbooks chockfull of nutritious recipes using local ingredients. Post-conference evaluations showed that 100% of the women felt more empowered after participating in the event. Peace Corps Volunteers interviewed each of the participants in the months after the conference, and through these discussions discovered that 90% of the women shared what they had learned with their communities.
One Peace Corps Volunteer noted that after her nominee returned from the conference, it was like having a second volunteer in her community. The participant hosted informational sessions, presented new ideas, and was a champion on healthy living to her community.
In March 2012, the Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference went national in Togo. Peace Corps Volunteers coordinated three conferences reaching women in all five of Togo’s regions: Maritime, Plateau, Central, Kara, and Savanes. Nearly 80 dynamic women participated in the conferences, and 6 past-participants volunteered their time to attend the conferences and share their experiences since 2011 with the new generation of WWEC women. Women learned about a variety of themes, including topics like illness prevention and communication skills. They also had the opportunity to discuss leadership and becoming a role model with other motivated Togolese women.
In its third year, WWEC is moving to one national conference. This year, 30 new participants representing every corner of Togo will join the elite group of over 100 women that have already been a part of this legacy. During the week-long conference, we will discuss the challenges that these women face and how economic independence, stronger physical and mental health and a greater self-confidence is not only possible but essential to creating the next generation of women leaders. The conference will also overlap with International Women’s Day and participants will have the opportunity to celebrate by organizing a community presentation to share what they have learned with the greater community.