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Friday, 27th November 2020

How beekeeping is creating a buzz around gender equality in Madagascar

By Polly Hedley & Rainie Schulte

Due to traditional gender roles and cultural expectations in Madagascar, income generating activities are often dominated by men, whilst women’s roles are centred around the home. However, women play an important role in livelihoods and generating family income, and in SEED’s sustainable livelihoods projects we work closely with women to increase the opportunities available to them and their representation in the local economy. 

Female beekeeper leaving construction training with newly built hive

Project Renitantely (Malagasy for honey bee) focusses on developing beekeeping into a viable and sustainable income source for those living in rural communities across southeast Madagascar, including women. For our beekeepers, honey is not only an essential source of supplementary income, but a vital household staple. Healthcare services are not widely available in rural communities, so honey plays a central role in traditional treatments and medicines. As an activity with a flexible time commitment that can be conducted close to the home, beekeeping is not viewed as an exclusively male vocation. Beekeeping, therefore, presents women with the opportunity to establish an independent source of income and a chance to change the status quo, equipping them with the skills to improve their social and economic wellbeing.

As part of Project Renitantely Phase I, SEED Madagascar focussed on recruiting female beekeepers to provide them with opportunities to generate income. Since it has been shown that women are significantly more likely to reinvest their earned income into the health and education of their family, it is vital that sustainable livelihood opportunities are inclusive and accessible.

Project beekeeper Josephine

We spoke to Josephine, a female participant of Project Renitantely, in 2017. She told us, “The money from the honey supports our household. If one of my children or relatives needs honey to treat his or her illness, I don’t need to go house to house to ask for it. I already have it at home.” In order to increase the number of women involved in Phase I, the Renitantely team hosted community gender-equality workshops to build understanding of the benefits of beekeeping for men and women. Following these workshops, exclusively female focus groups were held where women were able to discuss their experiences in beekeeping and benefits that are unique to them. Understanding that household responsibilities can often prevent women from accessing livelihood opportunities, SEED’s workshops highlighted how beehives can be kept close to the home and thus how beekeeping can be easily incorporated into the daily lives of women. All focus groups reported that they did not feel that women faced any gender-specific beekeeping challenges.

SEED’s initiatives in Renitantely Phase I were successful, and in 2018, 62% of the project’s new recruits were women. This brought the total female representation across all project beekeepers to 38%! Since the end of Phase I in late 2019, the project has entered an interim phase while fundraising for Phase II. In this next Phase, we want to encourage more women to become beekeepers and increase female representation among project participants to at least 50%.

Through Project Renitantely, women are able to build their capacity beyond traditional household activities and ultimately better support themselves and their families. Increased representation of women within the project better reflects the diversity of the local economy and recognises the important role women play in supporting their families. Project Renitantely promotes poverty alleviation in rural communities and encourages greater socio-economic inclusion of women across southeast Madagascar. Plus…the honey tastes great too!