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MADAGASCAR: Calls for Equality to be Written into New Constitution

Laure Pichegru

JOHANNESBURG, Jul 2 2010 (IPS) - Madagascan female activists are asking that the right of women to participate directly in politics be included in a new draft of the country’s Constitution, so that there can be 30 percent of female politicians in parliament by 2012 and 50 percent by 2015.

Women’s rights organisation Vondrona Miralenta ho an’ny Fampandrosoana (VMLF-‘group of women in politics’), say this constitutional requirement is needed to change the disproportion number of men and women represented in economics and politics. According to a study conducted by the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa in 2009, there are less than eight percent of Madagascan women in political decision-making bodies.

VMLF says it is necessary to clarify laws and legal texts such as the Constitution, the Electoral Code and even laws governing political parties to establish real equity between men and women.

“Without coercive action, there will be no change. For instance, no political party will present women on its list. Maybe there will be one or two women, but they will never be on the top of the list,” Noroarisoa Ravaozanany, a member of VMLF, told IPS.

The VMLF has submitted its proposal to the Constitutional Consultative Committee (CCC) requesting that some legislative texts dealing with gender issues to be reviewed and new texts added, so that gender parity can be achieved in decision-making bodies.

The CCC, set up by the transition government, is in charge of writing a Constitutional draft, originally meant to be completed before the Aug. 12 Constitutional referendum. However, the referendum has been postponed to an unknown date because the CCC is behind schedule drafting the new Constitution.

The drafting of a new Constitution is seen by many as the first step toward the end of the March 2009 political crisis, which saw the army oust President Marc Ravalomanana and install the opposition leader Andry Rajoelina as the head of the state.

In November 2010 a new elected government should succeed the transition government currently in place, which has, like the former governments, a very low representation of female politicians. There are only five female ministers compared to 31 male ministers.

Although the principle of “non-discrimination based on sex” has been written in the different Madagascan Constitutions and international agreements signed by the Madagascan authorities, such as the Southern African Development Community agreements, compelling signatory states to gender equity, the principle of parity has never been respected on the island. One of the reasons may be the burden of tradition.

“We use the expression “adilahy politika”, which means “politics is a men fight”. The way children are educated also plays a major role in the public perception of women, who are supposed to stay home,” said Hanta Andrianasy, a member of the women’s rights association Simiralenta.

According to her, the perception of women is changing: “Women are starting to understand the necessity of having the power to change things. Men, as well, are seeing that they need women to participate in politics. And they won’t be able to refrain women from lobbying for power.”

Andrianasy added that there are women leaders in rural areas who have attempted to become involved in politics but have been sidelined.

“They have been pre-selected to be candidates for local or legislative elections, but elbowing inside political parties is expelling them out of the game. In the past some of them used to run for the elections as independent candidates, to have a chance to be elected,” Andrianasy said.

But a new law, submitted to parliament in December 2008 but which is yet to be promulgated, has since banned the participation of independent candidates.

As a response, a female political party, Ampela Mano Politika (AMP – “women who are doing politics”) was formed in February.

“I have founded this party to enable all women, who are willing to enter politics, to be in the foreground, on an equal footing with men,” explained Dr. Brigitte Rasamoelina Rabemanantsoa, founding President of the AMP. With nearly 5,000 members, the party plans to participate in the next elections. The party also allows men to join and participate.

“Given the low representation of women in politics in Madagascar, we want to use positive discrimination: we will give priority to women candidates in the elections,” Rasamoelina Rabemanantsoa said.

However, some critics doubt whether submissions presented for the drafting of the new constitution will be included. The CCC, formed by the ruling party, is seen as being non-representative of all political movements.

But for Andrianasy, the Constitutional referendum is a chance for women’s voices to be heard.

“The political crisis we have been through since March 2009, pushed women to take action. The political crisis has also shown the incapacity of men to govern by themselves. The equity principle is in the interest of the whole population, not only of the women.”

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