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In Madagascar, bloggers debate abortion and women's rights

With a Valentine's Day performance of the controversial Vagina Monologues and a human rights committee's decision to call for a review of Madagascar's abortion ban, gender issues are a hot topic in the Malagasy blogosphere.

The Vagina Monologues, in Malagasy

A group of female Malagasy bloggers (Sipakv, Trinitty, Sipagasy, Ikalakely, Jogany) planned a reading of the Vagina Monologues in Malagasy, as part of celebration of V-Day, “a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.”

This announcement made quite a few waves in the Malagasy blogosphere.

Male reactions were a bit skeptical. Rajiosy asked, “Is this reasonable?” [Fr] and The Non Required wondered, a bit facetiously, whether it isn't men who hold an inferior position:

Il y a un mouvement qui se lance sur Internet pour changer la condition de la femme à Schgeumland. Je ne sais pas quoi en penser. En fait, je n’ai pas l’impression que les femmes soient mal loties à Schgeumland. Les femmes ne peuvent pas souffrir à Schgeumland. C’est une société matriarcale. Preuve en est qu’au du XIXeme, 3 femmes se sont succédées au pouvoir. Il a (presque) fallu que les hommes schgeumes fassent appel aux colons français pour mettre fin à cela! En fait, les êtres humains mal considérés à Schgeumland ce sont les hommes.

There's a movement afoot on the internet to change the condition of women in Madagascar. I don't know what to think of it. In fact, I am not under the impression that women have gotten a bad deal in Madagascar. Women cannot suffer in Madagascar. It's a matriarchal society. Just look at the 19th century, when 3 women came into power. The Malagasy men (almost) had to call on the French colonials to put an end to it! In fact, the people who are in Madagascar are the men.

Of course, even though the last three sovereigns were queens, they were puppets controlled by the male Prime Minister.

The Non Required‘s post prompted a torrent of 23 comments. Some readers accused him of machismo. Others pointed out all the ways Malagasy women continue to occupy a lower status than men, as well as some advantages women enjoy relative to men.

Qui met-on en prison en cas de flagrant délit d’adultère : c’est encore elle.

Who is jailed in cases of flagrant adultery: Malagasy women.

Une femme schgeume peut-elle facilement quitter un mari volage : non … et pourtant c’est une réalité à Madagascar. J’ai même vu un quotidien titrer : “Tsy maintsy mamitaka ve ny lehilahy”. Le jour où la loi sur le divorce changera à Madagascar, la femme schgeume sera peut-être mieux respectée et saura se faire respecter.

Is a Malagasy woman allowed to easily leave an adulterous husband: no…but that's the reality in Madagascar. I have even seen a daily newspaper with the headline: ”Do men have to cheat?” The day where divorce laws will change in Madagascar, Malagasy women will perhaps be better respected and will be able to know how to make herself respected.

Je mettrai cependant en balance le fait que les hommes n’ont pas de droit de garde apres un divorce.

However, I weigh that against the fact that men do not have [the same] custody rights after a divorce.

(When a child is seven years old, he or she is in charge of his or her destiny, and is allowed by the judge to choose which parent will have custody.)

What's in a word

The Malagasy Vagina Monologues also set off a debate on how to translate the word “vagina” into Malagasy. Many words used to describe sexual organs in Malagasy carry vulgar connotations and this fact is illustrated by the comments left by the male Malagasy bloggers.

The Non Required explains that “vagina” can be translated into “fory,” which is considered very crude in Malagasy.

But as answered by reader SipaKV, it can also be translated into a multitude of, “very pretty words, descriptive, poetic, functional, erotic” [Fr].

Should abortion be legal in Madagascar?

Mialysenfout raised the more serious and controversial topic of abortion.

Abortion is illegal in Madagascar, but in December 2007, a human rights committee asked the government to review the country's abortion laws and consider decriminalizing it.

Ici, la couverture contraceptive est encore très en-deçà de la demande. Et c'est un vrai souci dans une société à la sexualité debridée ( c'est une affirmation, pas une critique haha) où les premières relations sexuelles se font de plus en plus tôt, les préventions sont encore très maladroites et les cas d'avortements, de plus en plus nombreux. Parce qu'ils sont interdits, les avortements se font clandestinement et généralement dans des conditions hygiéniques et sanitaires déplorables et rarement par la personne compétente. Ces 30 000 décès, nous avons le pouvoir de les éviter si la loi autorise que l'intervention se fasse dans un centre hospitalier et par des médecins et bien sûr, dans un délai strict et rigoureux fixé par la loi.

Here the availability of contraceptives falls far below demand. And it is a real worry in a society with unbridled sexuality (an affirmation, not a criticism) where first sexual intercourses take place at a younger and younger age, contraception attempts are very clumsy and the number of abortion cases increase. Because abortions are prohibited, they are done clandestinely and generally in poor sanitary conditions, rarely by competent authorities. We will be able to avoid the yearly 30,000 deaths by abortion if the law authorizes legal intervention in hospitals, by doctors and of course, within strict and rigorous deadlines defined by the law.

Soit on choisit d'agir et faire en sorte que toutes les naissances soient le fruit d'un choix et non d'une contrainte. Faire en sorte que les femmes violées ou victimes d'une inceste n'aient pas à porter le fruit de leur humiliation. Faire en sorte que la loi permet aux femmes dont la grossesse menace la vie puisse de bénéficier d'un avortement thérapeuthique.

Whether we choose to act and make all births the result of a choice rather than an obligation. Make it so that raped women or incest victims do not have to give birth to the product of their humiliation. Make it so that the law allows women whose pregnancy threatens their lives to benefit from a therapeutic abortion.

In more than 40 comments, readers responded with a wide range of perspectives, some declaring abortion selfish or immoral, others discussing the consequences of dangerous, back room procedures:

L'avortement, je trouve que c'est lâche. On fait payer un enfant innocent, qui n'a rien demandé et qui ne peut même pas s'exprimer. (Rayon de soleil)

I find abortion a cowardly act. One makes an innocent pay, who has not asked for anything and cannot even express himself.

A Madagascar, l'avortement est interdit même en cas de danger pour la santé ou la vie de la mère, même en cas de viol et même en cas d'inceste. Avec une peine allant d'un à cinq ans d'emprisonnement et une amende de 360 000 à 10 800 000 Ar.

Abortion is prohibited in Madagascar, even when the life or health of the mother is in danger, even in cases of rape or incest. With a punishment ranging from one to five years of jail and a penalty of 360,000 to 10,800,000 Ar (approximately)

En cas de viol, NON à la dépénalisation. La mère devra mettre au monde l'enfant non désiré. (dotMG)

In case of rape, NO to legalization. The mother should give birth the unwanted baby.

En ce qui concerne le fond du débat, je suis pour déployer des gros moyens de mise à disposition et informations sur les méthodes de contraception. (Vola)

As for the heart of debate, I am for allocating funding for contraceptives and information about how to use them available to all.

madagascar.mabulle.com writes a detailed description of a clandestine abortion procedure performed in Antananarivo, and offers a harrowing statistic:

“Pendant ce temps là, à Antananarivo, 50% des décès liés à la grossesse seraient dus à une IVG clandestine qui a mal tourné.”

During this time, in Antananarivo, 50% of deaths related to pregnancy are believed to be related to botched underground abortions.

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