Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Participatory 3D Modelling has contributed to women’s personal development in Madagascar

Rural women in Ampefy and Analavory are emerging from years of years of subordination and passivity, taking charge of their own development and overcoming numerous obstacles to their emancipation. Their key role in regional development is increasingly recognised by the administrative and traditional authorities, development partners and the local community. This article shows how participatory 3-D modelling helps women fulfil their potential.

Rural development agents on a field visit to see how silting has damaged rice fields in Atalata Vaovao, a fokontany (neighbourhood) in Ampefy commune in the Itasy region of mid-western Madagascar, wondered what could have driven a pregnant woman to walk over 8 km to join them at the site. When asked what had prompted her to carry a heavy bag for several hours under the blazing sun, enduring the long journey without a word of complaint, she pointed to the badly eroded slope opposite. “Look at the damage it’s done! This hill has silted up all our rice fields. And I’m not going to stand by quietly while nothing is done to deal with this monster!” That was their introduction to Jeannette Raharimalala, a founding member of Tolotra local development committee (KF), a 10-member association created to raise awareness of the need for social and economic development in the neighbourhood. Although Tolotra is open to men, two-thirds of its members are women – individuals whose dynamism has astonished the regional director of FAFAFI, an NGO that supports development committees. Praising their “fearless and increasingly bold and enterprising approach”, she noted that “they’ve been active for several years but have made huge progress since 2015, when they first became involved in the P3DM process.”

Rural women overshadowed by men

Like their sisters in other regions of Madagascar, rural women in Atalata Vaovao are used to living in the shadow of their husbands and brothers. Men have jobs, go to the office and attend meetings, while women stay at home to look after the children, prepare meals, serve their menfolk and then retreat to the kitchen. Few women work in offices or lead organisations, and those who speak in public are frowned upon in rural Madagascar. The two main concerns for local people in this highly productive volcanic area are the land shortages and tenure issues left by the French colonial authorities, and the increasingly pressing problem of silting in their paddy fields. Recent efforts to grow out-of-season vegetables in these parcels have fizzled out and they now yield little more than weeds and stones. The community leader in Atalata, FĂ©lecitin Rakotoarimalalais, worries that “if nothing is done, my area alone stands to lose 30 hectares of rice fields in less than 10 years.” And if that wasn’t bad enough, Lake Itasy, which is the main source of income for many local people, is filling up with alluvium “so we have to travel further to catch increasingly small fish.” When the Liaison Office for Rural Training Institutions (BIMTT) introduced 3-D mapping exercises to help resolve potential conflicts in Itasy Region, the women of Atalata Vaovao were the first to turn their hand to the task despite the many constraints they face. Led by BIMTT technicians, supported by CTA and working alongside various representatives of the village, Ampefy town hall and development agencies, these women played an active role in a process that sharpened their already considerable appetite for development.

From personal development...

The 3-D model of Atalata Vaovao could not have been built without the local women, who played a key role in mobilizing community members of all ages behind the exercise. BIMTT technician Rajorosoana Razafimahatratra recalled how they acted as convenors and facilitators, “working in the corridors and leading with a quiet strength.” You’d hear them moving things along, galvanising everyone into action: “Come along now! Where’s so-and-so gone? See where they are! Can you remember what to do? You’re the only one who knows how to do it!”  Making 3-D models calls for the same kind of skills needed to organise the cooking, cleaning and laundry and get children off to school every day – and the women involved in this exercise proved much more enterprising, practical and pragmatic than the men in terms of their attention to detail, process, form, design, maintenance, getting the precise location of paths, springs and streams, updating information etc. Although the men were initially involved, it was the women who were really in charge and were best at making the model! The BIMTT technician also noted how “it improved their self-esteem and built mutual trust.” Women saw the invitation to join the model-making process as a form of recognition for their efforts. Aline Andriamampandry, secretary of the Mahiatrondro group, said that “being asked to participate means we can actually do something!” They were delighted to be able to express themselves, give an opinion, and above all be listened to. When the model was presented to the authorities and visitors (vazaha), they stood their ground like students defending their final thesis. Josephine Rasoanarilalaina, President of the Miavotra group admitted “I never thought I could do something like that!” Madagascan culture has always regarded making things as men’s work, but these women see things differently now and are determined to claim their rights. Some women from Ampefy have started land litigation procedures, while others are participating in regional elections in order to spread their ideas about development.

... to social development

Women’s personal development contributes to local social and economic development. Individual women and their groups are now recognised and consulted by their own and other communities. The communal authorities ask them about local development issues, and they act as an interface between development projects and beneficiaries. The manager of one drinking water project reported that “We use their groups whenever we need to do local awareness-raising exercises,” and said they have had a noticeable effect on community development. In the village of Mahiatrondro in the commune of Analavory, discussions sparked by the model have alerted people to the dangers of environmental degradation and are starting to have an impact on their way of thinking. Neighbourhood leader Justin Razafindrakoto reports that bushfires have halved and open defecation has been eradicated in the last two years. The 3-D model helped identify areas needing reforestation, and 1,000 saplings have been planted as part of an ongoing collaboration with the AgriSud project, which provides young plants. Having learned about the increasing scarcity of available land from the P3DM process, women have been quick to diversify their activities and started rearing livestock, fattening ducks, developing village granaries, producing and selling craftwork and acting as tourist guides. A local security service has also been set up and is now recognised by the regional court.

The knock-on effects of these experiences

The development committees in Ampefy and Analavory seem to be unstoppable! Their efforts are having knock-on effects in their own neighbourhood, and have spawned several sub-committees that are working on further community development initiatives. The neighbourhood chief was so impressed by the nine new groups (KF) that have been set up in the last two years that he incorporated them into the formal structure of his constituency, and their dynamism prompted the town hall to promulgate a communal order appointing KF members as Village Development Agents (VDAs). Their influence extends beyond their own commune to others in the district of Analavory, where their 3-D model was presented at the regional fair. Several other villages and communes in the district now intend to set up their own development committees, and these committees have become a focus for local development across the whole region of Itasy. The regional director of FAFAFI thinks the results speak for themselves. She believes that “personal development has a lasting impact on the individuals concerned and encourages sustainable community development,” and that “women are capable of doing incredible things with the right moral and technical support.”  At least one technician has been made available to work with women throughout the whole P3DM process, which is regarded as a very promising initiative by the Ministry for Population and Women’s Advancement. Its Director General, Kidja Marie Francine, has promised to support actions that help empower women.

Article written by Interview by Mamy Andriatiana for CTA