Lifting Women’s Voices in Madagascar
This International Women’s Day, we are highlighting the accomplishments of participants in the Lifting Women’s Voices, Lifting Our Communities project. Though this was a relatively small-scale initiative, it is having an impact—reflecting the collective power and dedication of the women who participated. Karuna Center’s team trained and coached 90 women in rural Madagascar in advocacy last year, increasing their leadership skills as their communities face rapid change.
“It’s important for us to step up and take initiative—because now, our husbands and others in society are listening to us and respecting what we have to say.”
When our project began, women were typically excluded from community decision-making processes led by men. At the same time, Madagascar Oil, like most companies, did not yet have procedures in place for consulting women about risks, impacts, and opportunities to provide support to communities affected by oil extraction—but the company was willing to collaborate.
Now, as the project comes to a close, women leaders are well-respected within their communities. They manage local projects and advocate directly both to government officials and the oil company. In each of the three project communities, they have established active women’s associations:
- Women of the new Miray association in Folakara secured new furniture for their struggling schools—advocating to both Madagascar Oil and a campaigning elected official—with the support of men in the community.
- In Ankondromena, the new Feon’johary women’s association advocated for and secured government-owned land for a reforestation project. When they did not receive a prompt response from Madagascar Oil about funding, they began their own nursery with 4,500 acacia seeds they collected themselves. They have so far planted more than 300 seedlings.
- The new Vehivavy Mampiaka-Peo women’s association in Ankisatra has used strategies to improve relations with the local security forces. In the past they felt forced to provide food for police officers, but they now do so willingly, because they feel better respected and protected after a series of conversations about their needs. The association has also established a collective livestock project.
In addition to those community projects:
- Some men who have lost their cattle (their traditional livelihood) due to banditry are now asking women to teach them to grow cassava, so they can continue as providers in a different role.
- Women leaders have met with Madagascar Oil representatives, both locally and in the capital, to communicate community needs and voice opportunities for company support. (Though oil production has been delayed, lessening the company’s role, company representatives have been supportive of this process.)
- Karuna Center will be publishing an in-depth toolkit and lessons learned from this project—so other organizations and companies will have more training tools available to support women’s leadership in similar contexts.
From the start, the project team took care to meet with men to include them and gain their support. Women’s leadership positively impacts the entire community—but the shift in power can be followed by backlash. When men are engaged as partners in women’s empowerment, this risk is reduced and the benefits multiply.
Unfortunately, we were unable to complete plans to train adolescent girls in addition to adult women, because increases in dahalo raids along the roads to project communities made travel too dangerous for both trainers and participants. Instead, we relied on the leadership of women who had already been to our advocacy workshops, and project mentors coached them over the phone. These local women continue to lead their communities toward greater security and resilience in the face of change.
Our project team has included not only Amherst-based staff, but also Larry Dixon (project lead), Haingo Randrianarivony (trainer and mentor based in Madagascar), Alice Rasoarinivo Voahangy (trainer and mentor based in Madagascar), Tantely Andriamasinoro (Company Liaison in Madagascar), and Emmanuel Tehindrazanarivelo (Community Liaison in Madagascar).
This project was supported with a grant from the United States Department of State issued in 2017.