The Female Liberation Movement in Ivohibe

Posted on 31 May 2011
Razafindrafara Honorine
© WWF/Martina Lippuner
In 2006, a woman called Razafindrafara Honorine became president of a COBA (a community based forest management association) in Ambatovita, 5 kilometres (more than 3 miles) from Ivohibe in the eastern moist forest. She was democratically elected after two years of mismanagement by the COBA’s first president.

“I could not believe my eyes” says Janvier Robert, a WWF field agent in Ivohibe. “You know, we are Bara, a very proud and traditional people. In our society, women are at home taking care of the household, cooking food and looking after the children. They aren’t even allowed to speak when men are around. This is very promising!”

Razafindrafara Honorine is a petite woman with kind eyes. She doesn’t seem like a revolution leader; nevertheless her presidency is a sign of a changing society, a society, where women can have a job and responsibility and are well respected.

“You know, it just didn’t work” she says.

“When WWF came here in 2004 to help create our COBA, we were all motivated to take over responsibility for the management of our dwindling forest. But then, he ended up being president, vice president, treasurer and counsellor. He wouldn’t let us members do a thing. Money disappeared. It was not how it was supposed to be.

"Madame Honorine complained and talked to her neighbours about the unsatisfying situation. Everyone agreed: things had to change! In an extraordinary meeting the COBA members forced their president to resign. The same morning, they proposed Madame Honorine as a candidate, which shocked her, as she says. “I was afraid to take this role over and didn’t want to have problems with the old president.” But her community didn’t concede. It was clear to them that she was the right person for the job.

“It is WWF’s constant presence since 1995 and its work with female associations that slowly changed people’s mindsets” says Honorine and giggles.

She seems quite comfortable in her role now. Every Tuesday she puts on a nice blouse and walks the 7 kilometres (more than 4 miles) to Ambatovita, near the corridor. As soon as she arrives in the village, the COBA members gather and sit down in a circle, usually under the shade of a tree. The president salutes everyone and they discuss for half an hour or so. One of their next plans is to build stock houses.

The COBA members in Ambatovita have already received training in apiculture, fish farming, vegetable growing and tree nursing by WWF staff. In 2010 they have planted 10,000 young trees. 7,744 have survived. The forest is on its way back in Ambatovita.

Edmond Salomon Rasolondraibe is a social field agent for WWF’s project Civil Society Empowerment in Ivohibe. He is also amazed by what happened in Ambatovita. “It is particularly joyful to work with Madame Honorine and the reorganised COBA. They are so motivated” he says.

“With the new project, we will fight against analphabetism in Ambatovita and surroundings. We will show farmers how to read the scale, so no one can take their rice bag for half the price anymore. We will continue to work with and create new associations for women as these prove to care for their children’s future much more than men. ”
Razafindrafara Honorine
© WWF/Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Kids playing on a reforestation site
© WWF/Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Women waiting for market opening
© WWF/Martina Lippuner Enlarge