#MySkirtMyRight: Women in Madagascar fight sexism and victim-shaming by the government

Screenshot from the TV5 Monde (national TV channel) coverage on the wave “My Skirt My Right” in Madagascar

Manpihena ny finan-dratsin'ireo lehilahy tia setrasetra ny fitaty tsotra sy maontina entin'ny ankizivavy. koa adidin'ny ny ray aman-dreny ny manoro sy manitsy ny zanany hanalavitra ny fitaty maneho fihantsiana sy mampitanjaka

Men's greedy needs to assault women reduce as women wear modest clothes. It is therefore every parent's duty to guide their daughters towards the right path and stop them from wearing revealing clothes and exposing themselves.

This is the message (since deleted) that was published on the Ministry of Education's Facebook page on April 12, 2019, as the Malagasy government urged women not to wear revealing clothes in order to avoid being sexually assaulted.

In response, many Malagasy women shared pictures of themselves on social media wearing skirts or dresses using the hashtag #MaJupeMonDroit (My Skirt My Right) to voice their outrage at this sexist request that essentially shames victims instead of sanctioning men's aggressive behavior. Below is a screenshot of Ministry of Education's original Facebook post in Malagasy, before it was taken down:

Screenshot of the Facebook post from the Ministry of Education on the 12th April, requesting women to avoid wearing revealing clothes.

The wave of protests rapidly spread online in Madagascar. The movement started on social media by the Malagasy NGO Nifin’Akanga, which is fighting to decriminalize abortion. On the same day of the Ministry's post, Nifin'Akanga responded quickly on Facebook, inviting the Malagasy online community to participate in an online campaign:

/// Jupe challenge/// ? PARTAGEZ !!
Prenez un selfie dans la tenue qui vous plaît: jupe, robe, etc. ?
Mettez le
Ma jupe, mon droit…
Sa braguette, son problème avec la loi.
Mon corps, mon droit
Mon utérus…pas ta décision !

/// Skirt challenge/// ? PLEASE SHARE !!
Take a selfie in an outfit that you like: skirt, dress, etc.?
Add the
My skirt, my right…
His zip, his problem with the law.
My body, my right
My uterus…not your decision!

They were joined by activists in the country and members of the Malagasy diaspora. Many activists also used the internationally-recognized hashtag #StopRapeCulture.

An editor in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, Soa Anina, listed on her blog 30 answers to 30 stereotypes of this movement. Here are a few of them:

Non, les « besoins sexuels des individus malfaisants » ne diminueront pas de cette manière, et certainement pas, s’ils reçoivent un soutien ministériel qui déplace le problème en accusant la victime, plutôt que le coupable. Non, ce n’est pas aux filles de gérer le comportement des hommes et des garçons : c’est aux hommes d’apprendre à se comporter honorablement, en toutes circonstances, et aux parents d’élever leurs garçons pour en faire des hommes. (..)  La vérité, c’est qu’aucun habit ne vous protège. Ce n’est pas le vêtement : le pervers réalise le crime, non parce qu’il est attiré par « le plaisir sexuel », mais parce qu’il tire son plaisir du rapport de pouvoir, de contrôle et de domination, sans aucun lien avec  le vêtement jugé « trop sexy ». Le mot malgache « fanolanana » décrit le viol avec exactitude : tordre jusqu’à ce que la résistance s’étiole.

No, the “sexual needs of predators” will not be kept under control this way, and certainly not if they benefit from the support of the Ministry. The government is only avoiding the issue by pointing the finger at the victim instead of the guilty abuser. No, it is not the responsibility of women to handle men's and boys’ behaviors: men have to learn to behave with dignity in all circumstances, and parents need to educate their boys to become men. (…) The truth is, no garment will ever protect you. It is not about the garment: the pervert perpetrates the crime not because of his libido, but because he gets his pleasure from power, control and domination, all unrelated to the clothing worn, even if deemed “too sexy”. The Malagasy word “fanolanana” is an accurate description of rape: bend it until its resistance weakens.

The protest storm continued and was amplified by the national newspapers and online publications. Nasolo Valiavo Andriamiahaja is an editor for the newspaper l'Express de Madagascar. He associates all types of restrictive policies on clothing to a regression of women's rights.  He recalls an anecdote from the King of Morocco during his temporary forced exile in Madagascar:

En 1956, raconte l’écrivain marocain Tahar ben Jelloun, le roi du Maroc Mohammed V à son retour d’Antsirabe où l’administration coloniale française l’avait envoyé en exil, n’avait pas hésité à montrer ses filles sans voile. «Entre la fin des années cinquante et le début des années quatre-vingt, les Marocaines avaient dans leur majorité abandonné le port du voile. Elles portaient la djellaba et gardaient la tête non couverte. C’est avec la révolution iranienne et les discours démagogiques de Khomeyni que le voile a refait son apparition» («Maroc : voilés, dévoilées, les femmes sèment le trouble», taharbenjelloun.org)

The Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun shares that the king of Morocco Mohammed V did not hesitate to show off his daughters without the scarf, upon his return from Antsirabe (a province of Madagascar) in 1956, where the French colonial administration had exiled him. “Between the nineteen fifties and the start of the nineteen eighties, most Moroccan women had stopped wearing the scarf. They were wearing the djellaba and kept their head uncovered. It was the Iranian revolution and Khomeyni's demagogic speeches that brought the scarf back.”

Following this uproar, the Ministry of Education formally apologized in a press release, putting an end to the storm:

Official statement from the Ministry published on Facebook explaining the withdrawal of the action against sexual assaults.

But for a number of activists and journalists like Antananarivo-based Mbolatiana Raveloarimisa, the fight is not over:

Nombreux sont les commentaires qui, au lieu de soutenir l’indignation, cherchent encore à culpabiliser les femmes.  Le malheureux Ministère de l’éducation n’est qu’un élément déclencheur qui nous a fait découvrir une réalité toute autre. Dans la société Malgache, la violence faite aux femmes n’est que le bout d’un iceberg immense. L’administration toute entière n’est que la cristallisation d’un mutisme général.

A lot of comments were trying to shame women instead of supporting the movement. This sad incident is only the catalyst that opened our eyes to a hidden reality. In Malagasy society, violence against women is only the tip of a huge iceberg. The entire administration is only the crystallization of a national silence on violence against women.

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