By: Naomi Ndifon

On 16 November 2023, the Republic of Madagascar held its presidential election. 13 male candidates vied for the position of President. Subsequently, incumbent President Andry Rajoelina of the Young Malagasies Determined Party emerged as the winner, securing a second 5-year term after receiving 58.95% of the votes, eliminating the need for a second round. Voter turnout on election day was 46%, considered the lowest in the island nation's history.

Madagascar has experienced political instability and economic crises, perpetuating hardships for its population. The atmosphere in the country was tense before the 2023 presidential election. Opposition candidates organised near-daily demonstrations calling for a boycott of the polls and urging people not to vote. Furthermore, the opposition claimed that Rajoelina should be ineligible to participate in the presidential election due to his French citizenship acquired in 2014, which they claimed automatically revoked his Malagasy one. Several observers reported violent clashes between the opposition and its supporters and the police. The High Constitutional Court ordered that the presidential elections be postponed from 9 November 2023 to 16 November 2023 following the injury of a candidate during one of the demonstrations. AU observers also reported acts of violence on election day.

By the 2010 Constitution, the President of Madagascar serves as the Head of State. Presidential elections are conducted via a two-round system wherein the President is elected by popular vote to a 5-year tenure renewable once. The Prime Minister, appointed by the President, is the Head of Government. The bicameral parliament of Madagascar consist of the National Assembly and the Senate. The 151 members of the National Assembly are directly elected and serve 5-year terms. In the Senate, of the 18 members, 6 are appointed by the President, while an electoral college of subnational leaders indirectly elects the remaining 12. All Senators serve 5-year terms.  

Madagascar currently does not have a quota for women. While its Constitution does not explicitly mention quotas, it maintains that the law favours “equal access and the participation of women and men in public employment” as well as in political, economic and social life.

Women’s Political Participation

Although there was no female candidate in the 2023 presidential pollswomen made up 48.54% of the registered voters. Malagasy women’s representation in the legislature is low overall. As of February 2024, women represent 18.5% ( 28 out of 151 seats) compared to 81.5% (123 out of 151 seats) men in the National Assembly. In the Senate, women represent 5.6% (one out of 18 seats) compared to 94.4% (17 out of 18 seats) men. Ms Raharinirina Sidonie has been the only female senator since her election in 2021. In 2013, Christine Razanamahasoa made history when she became the first female President of the National Assembly. She was re-elected in 2019. 

The Malagasy Government implemented the Gender and Elections Strategy 2015 – 2020 to increase women’s representation in decision-making in the country. Through the Strategy, the Government hoped to achieve several results, such as acquiring a better representation of women in national and local decision-making bodies and monitoring the realisation of declarations of support from politico-administrative authorities, political parties, and civil society organisations. 

Madagascar also introduced other legislation and strategies that may positively impact women's political participation and representation, such as in combatting gender-based violence in the country. For example, the Gender-Based Violence Legislation N°2019-008 aims to strengthen prevention, prosecution, repression, punishment and reparation, and the protection of GBV survivors. The Law makes offences such as marital rape, harmful practices, and economic violence punishable. It also started awareness-raising campaigns on gender-based violence and information on support for victims. The Malagasy Government also introduced the 2017 - 2021 National Strategy to Combat Gender-Based ViolenceAmong its strategy areas are prevention of violence and socioeconomic rehabilitation. In 2015, Madagascar implemented the National Strategy to End Child Marriage, aligning it with the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage.

Other legislative and policy efforts aim to strengthen women’s economic empowerment and provide protections in the workplace and equal access to land. Under the Labour Code, discrimination in employment based on gender is prohibited, and the Code also includes provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace. 

While there have been advances in legislation and policy implementation on women’s rights, challenges remain in several areas. In 2017, the parliament upheld legislation in the Penal Code prohibiting abortion and making it punishable by five years in prison, even for victims of rape. As a result, the number of women dying from unsafe clandestine abortions has increased annually.

Regarding gender equality in public and political life in 2022, the National Assembly and the Senate adopted Law n°2022-003 on the participation of women in decision-making positions. The Law sought to implement the principles of parity between women and men in nominative and elective positions. The High Constitutional Court declared the Law unconstitutional. The decision came after the President of Madagascar referred Law n°2022-003 to the Court for review before its promulgation.

Agriculture is the main form of employment in Madagascar, representing 72% of female employment. Both men and women have equal legal rights to access, own and control land. However, customary law demands that women access land through their fathers, brothers, husbands or other men. As a result, very few women have their names on land certificates. 

Malagasy women, female members of parliament, and women's groups are leading causes to offer solutions to some of these challenges. Nifin'Akanga, a coalition of Malagasy activists, journalists, and service providers, is one such organisation working to decriminalise abortion and improve SRHR in Madagascar.

Before the 2023 elections, TOLOTSOA, under its "Malagsy Youth Engagement in the Electoral Process" project, trained nine young women as peer educators to raise youth electoral participation in target communities. Other CSOs, such as the ​​Sampana Anaraha-maso ny Fifidianana, Ivon'ny Demokrasia Ifarimbonanana (SAFIDY) Observatory, were also highly involved in the pre-election sensitisation and election day observation processes.

The Women in Parliament Network, consisting of members from the National Assembly and the Senate, were among those who drafted legislation sucas the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Act and the Malagasy Nationality Code.

Others, such as Moana Essa Raseta, the first female Governor of Ihorombe, a region in southeastern Madagascar, work to strengthen Malagasy women’s economic empowerment and break gender stereotypes. She also promotes education, such as teaching women how to save money and keep a portion of their income rather than giving it to men.

Conclusion

The incumbent President, Andry Rajoelina of the Young Malagsies Determined Party, emerged as the winner of Madagascar’s 2023 Presidential election after securing 58.95% of the votes. While the just concluded presidential polls recorded many women as voters, election observers, and polling unit officials, there was no female presidential candidate. Malagasy women’s representation in parliament remains low. In the Senate, Ms Raharinirina Sidonie remains the sole female member, while women’s representation remains low in the National Assembly.

Over the years, Madagascar has strengthened women’s rights through legislation, policy, and strategy implementation. While advances have been made, challenges remain, such as regarding Malagasy women’s equal political participation, access to maternal, sexual, and reproductive health services and ownership of land. Moreover, Madagascar has signed the Maputo Protocol but has yet to ratify it.

Malagasy women and civil society organisations, however, are actively working for the adoption of more gender-sensitive policies, such as improving sexual and reproductive health rights by decriminalising abortion. Others work to promote and advance women’s political and economic empowerment, raise awareness of women’s rights and teach invaluable skills. Their work and initiatives are vital to enhancing and realising the rights of Malagasy women and girls. 

Madagascar Parliament

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