In Conversation with Women’s March Madagascar
Last month Women’s March Madagascar joined the #WomensWave, holding its first march to stand up for women’s rights in Madagascar and march in solidarity with women and allies around the world on the #WomensWave Global Anniversary. The following is an article by Liz Toomey, the Chapter Ambassador, who shares with us details from their anniversary event and the gendered inequalities faced by women in Madagascar that drive the chapter’s advocacy for change.
We held our first ever Women’s March in Madagascar on January 19, 2019, in the town of Ranomafana. It was quite an event, with over 130 representatives from women’s groups, cooperatives, Madagascar National Park staff, local government officials, female scientists and researchers, and many others from the surrounding rural commune attending the march and the reception that followed.
There are many persistent gender inequities in terms of land ownership and inheritance laws, equal pay, representation in government, and roles in society in Madagascar. While these inequities have lessened over the last decade, there is still a way to go before the majority of Malagasy women experience the same social, educational, and economic opportunities as men. These are the issues we marched for — equal rights, the importance of keeping girls in school, and the changes women want to see in their communities with regards to gender equality and equity.
We marched roughly 2 km through the town of Ranomafana (a small village in southeastern Madagascar, most famous for its proximity to Ranomafana National Park), and ended up at the reception location on the outskirts of town. January 19th happened to also be the inauguration of the new president in Madagascar, so we chose to not carry signs during the march. We wanted to keep the vibe positive, and focused on marching for positive change instead of against the things in society we have issues with. Protesters do not have the same freedoms here in Madagascar, and this election season has been quite contentious.
During the reception, we asked women from the various groups to give a speech on the subject of women’s rights and the things they wanted to see change in their communities with regards to gender equality. The speeches were powerful, with the exception of a few male officials who ended their speeches on a more condescending note — seemingly blaming women for not having enough control over the number of children they bear (particularly women in rural areas). Despite these hints of negativity, the vast majority of participants, which were women, continued to speak truth to power about the need for more opportunities — in education, organized sports, employment, and more. Only time will tell if the men in the room took their messages to Heart.
Overall, it was a wonderful and empowering event, with a diverse group of participants and organizers. The community of Ranomafana is looking forward to holding more events and community discussions on gender equality in the future, and are energized to keep the #WomensWave rolling.