2nd National SRHR Conference in Madagascar
Project Safidy’s annual Sexual and Reproductive Health Conference took place on November 6th and 7th in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo. The penthouse hall of the prestigious Carlton Hotel was filled with over 120 people representing 50 organisations and ministries – all of whom are working towards the goal of improving sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Madagascar.
The conference commenced with speeches from guests at the forefront of SRHR advocacy in Madagascar. Opening his speech, Dr. Phillip Boyle, UK Ambassador to Madagascar, declared:
At the heart of SRHR is the principle that all women and girls have the right to make informed decisions about sexuality and reproduction so that they can lead healthy lives, avoid unwanted sexual encounters, decide when and how many children to have, and be exposed to fewer risks during pregnancy and birthDr Phillip Boyle, UK Ambassador to Madagascar
The Ambassador went on to advocate for SRHR as the key to improved health, education, and sustainable development in Madagascar, paying tribute to the work of SEED Madagascar and other organisations who are championing the rights of women and girls across the country. Director General of the Ministry of Public Health, Professor Gaétan Duval Solofomalala, discussed the importance of investing in sexual and reproductive health and encouraged the establishment of a network to strengthen national advocacy of SRHR. SEED Madagascar’s Director of Programmes and Operations, Lisa Bass, echoed these sentiments, encouraging collaboration of SRHR actors to achieve shared goals in Madagascar.
Building on this inspiring foundation, the conference jumped into an exciting two days of panel discussions, presentations and Q+A sessions. Representatives from organisations and ministries took turns to moderate and participate in panel discussions on topics ranging from stigma and discrimination to advocacy and legal frameworks. Throughout each presentation, speakers highlighted the biggest challenges to SRHR in Madagascar, such as: poor access to family planning services; high levels of unprotected sex; sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS; early pregnancy; high birth rates, and poor maternal and child health outcomes.
Many panellists expressed concerns regarding Madagascar’s rapidly growing population, citing low access and utilisation of contraception, sexual violence, and early marriage as key barriers to effective family planning. USAID-funded project Health Policy Plus discussed the potential for jumpstarting economic growth in Madagascar by producing demographic dividends. These gains can be generated through decreases in birth rates, which will reduce the costs of supporting children and boost workforce productivity. High fertility rates further hamper social and economic growth in Madagascar by preventing many girls from accessing crucial education and employment opportunities. DFID-funded project Wish2Action advocated for increased family planning services to minimise maternal mortality and STIs, whilst maximising the proportion of the population that can participate in the development of the country.
Whilst all attendees agreed that everyone has the right to their own sexual and reproductive health, presentations highlighted that isolated and marginalised communities often do not benefit from SRHR interventions. The Ministry of Public Health and other representatives discussed the importance of expanding access to SRHR services, such as family planning, to rural areas, where the birth rate and incidence of STIs and HIV are frequently much higher than in urban zones. Furthermore, panellists discussed the need for comprehensive sexual education in isolated rural areas, where there is commonly low knowledge of SRHR and high incidence of risky behaviours such as unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Organisations such as SEED Madagascar, UNESCO, MenEngage, and USAID funded Mahefa Miaraka have been addressing SRHR knowledge gaps through sex education lessons, whilst also focusing on improving self-esteem and addressing negative gender norms. UNFPA also shared their strategy of training young people to become peer-educators, who teach other young people about SRHR topics and advocate for social change. Tsinjo Rahaingoarivelo, Project Coordinator for SEED Madagascar’s Project Safidy, discussed ongoing collaboration with the Ministry of National Education to integrate 12 SRHR topics into the high school curriculum across Madagascar. After the successful integration of the rights-bases sexual and reproductive health curriculum into the first year of high school, Project Safidy aims to deliver this curriculum in 492 schools nationally during the 2019-2020 school year.
Madagascar is on the path to inclusively promoting SRHR for future generations
Whilst commending the national elimination of taxes for condoms earlier in 2019, many representatives expressed the need for increased public spending on SRHR services, including family planning, to sustainably improve SRHR outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. In response, the Ministry of Public Health, echoed these sentiments, discussing plans to increase spending for family planning, and announcing the publication of national SRHR strategies in 2020. This support for SRHR has been echoed in Madagascar's wider political context, with the First Lady of Madagascar, Mialy Rajoelina, championing the elimination of sexual violence. With new laws expanding access to family planning services for marginalised groups, many suggest that Madagascar is on the path to inclusively promoting SRHR for future generations.
The two-day conference culminated with attendees working together to establish an SRHR network, which will drive forward the goals envisaged during this event. By improving coordination amongst SRHR actors, this network aims to achieve this shared mission of promoting SRHR in Madagascar. SEED Madagascar would like to thank everyone that attended Project Safidy’s SRHR conference and welcomes effective collaboration towards shared goals in the future.