Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 22:15:45 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-MADAGASCAR: Gender Equality Still A Distant Goal
ANTANARIVO, Dec 14 (IPS) - Gender equality is still a long way off in Madagascar, where the giant Indian Ocean island is trying to improve the lot of women.
The recent national conference on the rights of women and children held in the Malagasy capital of Antanarivo revealed some inequalities which still exist between women and men.
Lalao Randriamampionona, an adviser to the Malagasy Prime Minister, says although women work harder than men, their salaries are between 22 and 25 percent lower.
Seventy-five percent of Madagascar's 14 million people are peasants among whom 85 percent are women, who till the land. This agricultural work is not paid because it is basically self- subsistence farming on family plots.
Domestic work and small-scale off-the-books trading are also unremunerated jobs for mainly women. "In Madagascar, men are not yet in the habit of helping women in this type of work", remarks Lily Razafimbelo, a member of the board of directors of a coalition of women's non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
There are fewer women heads of household than there are men, but they still do not have access to the means of production, whether they live in the city or the country.
"Women have trouble obtaining plots of land to farm because they don't have the financial means. The same is true for the livestock necessary to produce fertiliser and pull plows", notes Randrimampionona.
The few existing women entrepreneurs are as disadvantaged as women peasants when it comes to the means of production. "Access to credit is still a dream. Still, we can't complain too much because men encounter almost the same problem", says a woman businessperson who heads an agro-food firm in Antanarivo.
In other economic sectors, women usually do unskilled labour since they have little education. They also get semi-skilled jobs, such as handiwork, trading, and paid domestic work.
Women make up more than 70 percent of the active population working in these sectors.
Management roles, however, fall mainly to men. But women are gaining a bit of ground in a few sectors. They presently make up 50 percent of all sales managers.
"We hope that in the year 2000, the rate will go up to 55 percent", says Randriamampionona.
In politics, the story is different. In the present National Assembly, women hold only 7.3 percent of all seats, as opposed to 7.2 percent in the previous 1993 legislature.
In government, Razafimbelo laments that, only a few women hold decision-making roles. Most are confined to jobs in the executive. Even though Madagascar's government now includes four women ministers and several women directors, no woman has ever been promoted as an ambassador.
The problem is to some extent caused by the women themselves. "There are few women leaders in politics or the economy. Others fear upsetting the established order and lack the boldness to follow the trendsetters", says Perrin Ratovoherivony of the Malagasy National Human Rights Committee.
Concurring, Randrimampionona says women can be timid because they are not trained for political and economic battle. However, they excel in social and humanitarian tasks.
In spite of the inequality Malagasy women face, Razafimbelo recognises that Madagascar also offers some favourable features for women.
She cites the development of a national policy to promote women, and the new dynamism of NGOs working together to promote women's rights.
Ratification of the International Convention to Fight Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by the Madagascan government is one of the victories Madagascan women have obtained.