Women and youth now make up a resounding 85% of Velondriake’s management structure!
As turmoil returned to Malagasy high politics last month, the Velondriake Association – responsible for the governance of Madagascar’s flagship Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) – demonstrated the immense energy that grassroots democracy can generate. Open elections for the new General Assembly (GA) – the decision-making body for the Association – sparked much excitement across the Velondriake area, dominating conversations in many villages over the last few months.
The election results are the product of a month of intensive awareness raising throughout the Velondriake area in order to ensure a free and fair electoral process. The Velondriake Association is large and its structure complex by nature, as it covers thirty different villages and fishing settlements. The General Assembly (GA) is made up of elected representatives from each village in the LMMA, who are selected in a first round of elections through polling at the village level. These newly elected representatives then go on to elect the members of three sub-committees (for the three main zones constituting the Velondriake area) and an executive committee.
When it came to the final round of elections, ‘Démocratie’ was the word of the day. As the newly elected GA members exited the Velondriake Centre in the village of Andavadoaka one-by-one and walked across to a purpose-built shed to cast their votes in secrecy, queues to the ballot box were solemn and quiet.
The moment of counting votes was truly electric, with people sitting on the edge of their seats as the Mayor of Befandefa announced the results! Mr. Richard from the village of Tampolove was chain smoking and looking tense as the results were counted, until he was declared president of the executive committee by a sweeping majority.
Despite the late hour, GA members declined unanimously to go on lunch break before finding out the results of the vice presidency, which was jointly secured by Mr. Mandimby, a fisherman and collector for the seafood export company Copefrito, who will be travelling to Mexico later this year to share Velondriake’s management experiences with communities there, and Ms. Soariline, an octopus gleaner, president of the women’s association in the village of Bevato and daughter of one of the founders of Velondriake.
The results are exhilarating and challenge any political structure in the west in terms of inclusiveness: 38% of GA members are now women (a significant increase from the 13% in the previous GA), compared to the UK Parliament where female MPs constitute just 29% of the total, or the US Senate where female senators constitute just 20% of the total. Meanwhile the youth of Velondriake are also stepping into leadership roles, with a staggering 47% of GA members now being young people aged 18-25 years (a significant increase from the 9% in the previous GA). Such results may be understood within the context of Blue Ventures’ ongoing efforts to engage women and youth in marine conservation with our reproductive health, coastal livelihood and education programmes as meaningful entry points, alongside initiatives to promote gender equality in fisheries management.
This landmark election is of great significance for LMMAs all over Madagascar, since Velondriake is often looked up to as a point of reference. As many LMMAs are struggling to institutionalise strong governance, what has unfolded in Velondriake demonstrates that long-term co-management between NGOs and community associations pays off by instilling a sense of responsibility for marine resources and by nurturing local leadership necessary for effective governance.
The BV team was smiling from ear to ear all week seeing such a motivated spirit in the GA, with high hopes that this will bring new energy and an increased sense of ownership to the people of Velondriake! Nevertheless, a huge amount of work remains… 83% of the recently elected GA members are completely new to their roles. An anonymous survey to gauge their motivations suggests that the vast majority have put themselves forward in order to learn new skills, while contributing to the development of their communities and the sustainable management of their fisheries. We need to maintain the current momentum by providing these new GA members with training in good governance and the principles of marine resource management.
From here we will also attempt to address historical inequalities in the support provided to different communities across the Velondriake area, intensifying efforts in more isolated zones through monthly management meetings in order to ensure that conservation initiatives generate positive outcomes for all Velondriake villages. This will include piloting social contracts with the GA and its associated sub-committees, outlining our respective co-management roles and responsibilities.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, we are going to keep trying to tackle the profound social challenges that communities face in applying dina (customary law) through the creation of a local monitoring and evaluation committee. The coming months will therefore be full of interesting developments, which as always will see our team dedicated to advancing the marine resource management rights of all community members!