One of the proudest moments of my year working for Blue Ventures in Madagascar, was giving a speech (written for me in Malagasy) for International Women’s Day. I was pleased to find that the women’s association in the village had celebrated International Women’s Day long before Blue Ventures came on the scene. In 2008, the year I was there, the women marched though the village proclaiming “women for development” gave speeches to an audience of the village dignitaries – and gaggles of children- arranged a women’s football match and held a party to raise money.
Many of the volunteers out in Andavadoaka at the time were surprised to find out that there was such a thing as International Women’s Day, and a few of the volunteers (both male and female) asked when international Men’s day was. I was shocked at their ignorance, and they, in turn, were shocked to find out how long International Women’s Day had been in existence for.
I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember. Even before I reached double figures, I knew that equality was something worth fighting for, even though at that age, I was merely fighting for the right to play football in the playground with the boys. In the intervening years, there hasn’t been anything to persuade me that feminism and equality isn’t as relevant now as when International Women’s Day was first conceived of in 1911.
It would be nice if the sweatshop fires in New York that took place that first year International Women’s Day was celebrated were consigned to history. Alas, events like these still happen, and women still die so that we can buy cheap throwaway clothes.
On the surface of things, the women in the village in Madagascar are not much worse off than the men; it’s a very poor village and poverty affects everyone negatively. However, look a little deeper and you’ll realise that inequality still reaches this far western edge of Madagascar. Before Blue Ventures’ family planning project arrived in the village, women had no access to contraception, bearing up to 16 children throughout their lives. Single motherhood isn’t limited to western cultures, and many women struggled to feed and clothe their children. Having children at such early ages – some as early as 11 – affects their education, in turn affecting their future prospects.
The women in Andavadoaka might not call themselves feminists. But they do know about hopes and dreams for themselves, for their daughters and for their village. They do know when International Women’s Day is and that it’s something worth celebrating and commemorating.
Action Aid’s Get Lippy campaign aims to highlight the injustices faced by women the world over. Violence, poverty and inequality reach women all over the globe, and these stories aren’t pretty. Yet instead of feeling depressed and impotent, it’s important to celebrate the achievements made, and offer our sisters across the globe solidarity and support in their struggles for equality and justice. Action Aid is using women’s own stories to highlight a range of issues that women are facing, including violence, land rights, political participation and arranged marriages, and asking women to send their messages of support through the website.
Since I left Madagascar, the women’s association in the village has made progress with having a building of their own – to work and to meet in. This International Women’s Day I’ll be remembering my friends in the village, and thinking about women’s struggles everywhere.
Because if we aren’t equal everywhere, we aren’t equal anywhere.
- Learn more about the interaction between population, health & the environment in Madagascar
- Labour Behind the Label campaigns for fairer conditions for workers across the world
- Women Working Worldwide specifically campaigns on women workers in overseas supply chains
- Visit Action Aid’s Get Lippy campaign and send your message of support