Who would have thought that one day I would participate in a policy making symposium on gender development in Madagascar in the summer of my junior year of college?
I have always been very interested in gender empowerment since childhood because of injustices and inequalities that I saw every day between men and women in Madagascar. It was great that I could voice those situations during my internship with UNICEF Madagascar when I attended the symposium on gender development. I was among two hundred participants who gave recommendations to create a action plan for women’s empowerment in Madagascar. Discussions revolved around 11 themes, among others: women’s rights and the fight against violence based on gender, education and culture, gender and governance, gender and trafficking in persons, adolescents and girls, and so forth.
The 22 regions of Madagascar all had representatives from various backgrounds such as male and female, teachers, civil society members, religious community members, and so forth. Each one of them shares difficulties from the regions they were from.
I really enjoyed participating in this symposium. Not only was I able to share what I thought was the next step for more gender development in Madagascar, but I was able to look at other people’s perspectives and discuss them. I recognized the Ministry of Population and Women’s Empowerment’s initiative to make this event happen. It was also nice to understand historical context for current gender problems as well.
For example: A teacher from the South of Madagascar raised the difficulty that young women encounter during rainy seasons where they must miss school to prepare food for field workers in some regions. As we discussed the issue, some participants argued that changing the school year to be adapted to the climate calendar which is already put in place in La Reunion. Other participants explained that they have been trying to address this school year needing to be adapted to climate calendar in other contexts, but it never passed through the council of ministers because it does not benefit the children of the very influential people in Madagascar. In fact those children will study abroad, especially in France, and would have a sabbatical year if the government were to change the school year calendar. Historically also, during colonization and the First Republic, school inspectors came from France. It was then necessary for the school year to match that of France. Unfortunately, the school year is still the same even after 55 years of Independence for Madagascar, which is still a problem.
At the end of the symposium, I realized that the fight for gender equality is still basic and a long-running battle in Madagascar. We are still fighting to have the same numbers of girls and boys finishing elementary and secondary school while in developed countries, women scientists struggle to have the same jobs as their counterparts. A lot of people assume that girls and boys are already on the same level in Madagascar although they are not. Incentives to make young girls stay in school and enjoy other opportunities should first be increased to have as many Malagasy boys and girls finishing at least secondary schools.