Lalaina Raharindimby: An International Women's Day Profile
Lalaina Raharindimby: An International Women's Day Profile
Lalaina Raharindimby is SEPALI Madagascar’s Accountant and Director of the Women’s Workshop. She joined the SEPALIM team in 2010 and has been the driving force behind the success of the Women’s Workshop. In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, I spoke with Lalaina about the role of women in her community, the challenges her community has faced over the last year, and her reflections on what it means to be a woman on Women’s Day in rural Madagascar.
“Without a woman, there is no family”
Lalaina, her husband Mamy, and their son have lived in Maroantsetra, a small coastal town in Madagascar’s northeastern rainforest, for 12 years. All of their extended family live in Madagascar’s capital city, Tana. The lack of reliable transportation between the two cities means that her mother and mother-in-law have only visited her family once in the 12 years they have lived in Maroantsetra. But, she says, they are “surrounded by second family:” neighbors, the SEPALIM team, and family friends.
Lalaina and Mamy work six days a week, with Sundays off to rest and spend time with family. Mamy is the Director of SEPALIM, so the two work closely to run the project. When I asked her about her work-life balance, she responded only that “Sunday is enough for us to take a rest and [the rest of the week] we enjoy having a job.” Maroantsetra is a small enough town that there are few options for recreational activities, and with over 135 inches of rainfall annually, outings are highly dependent on the weather.
Women are the backbone of society. This is a saying that we hear all the time, especially in the weeks surrounding International Women’s Day. Working six days a week and maintaining a household, Lalaina and the women of her community are the embodiment of what the saying truly means. While men occupy the prominent leadership positions of the community, the women are the ones who keep the wheels turning at home. “In the community,” says Lalaina, “the men are always the leader. But in the family, the women are in charge of almost 95 percent of the household responsibility.” As if used to her meaning being understated, she emphasizes that “without a woman, there is no family.” And without families, there is no community for men to lead.
Although gendered labor dynamics in the public vs. private spheres persist in Maroantsetra specifically and in Madagascar generally, Lalaina noted that there have been marked changes since her childhood: “The change that I have noticed [most is] that the women became a voice to hear. The men include women in any staff of decision makers.” This shift towards giving women a seat at the table has occurred not only at the community level (in churches and town committees, for example), but also at the national level– in 2016, women held 20.5% of parliamentary seats compared to just 3.7% in 1997. Lalaina herself is an example of this, as a respected leader of the SEPALIM team.
“The women must be strong”
When COVID-19 hit Maroantsetra, it hit hard. The town has very limited medical capacity, with one hospital that has four beds and no permanent doctors. As the virus spread through the community, it became increasingly important to lean on the support of neighbors. “The women must be strong to face the COVID-19,” commented Lalaina, revealing yet again the extent to which the burden of care in the face of adversity falls on the women of her community. In addition to the lack of accessible healthcare for COVID-19 patients, the pandemic increased medical costs in general. So, Lalaina explained, the women came together to share what she calls “grandma recipes” for caring for the sick and injured, as well as exchange knowledge when someone in the community got COVID-19.
By now, Maroantsetra has begun to learn how to live with COVID-19. Lalaina reflected on this new reality with words that resonate on the other side of the world: “The life continues, the children go to school, we have adopted new behavior to help each other.” While this pandemic is far from over, especially in a country with a less-than-five-percent vaccination rate, Lalaina’s outlook is positive. She seems to believe wholeheartedly that her community of women has the strength necessary to meet each new challenge that may arise with grace and confidence.
One such challenge is the extreme hurricane seasons brought about by our world’s climate crisis. This year’s hurricane season has already been ten times worse than a typical year, and it still won’t end for another two months. It;s widely recognized that this is the way of the future: worsening hurricane seasons with every year that passes. Lalaina is already noticing the impact that trend is having on her community. She is confident that the responsibility of the women will be increased, especially with things like household spending. “The price of food has gone up,” she explains– “the men do not notice the suffering from that.”
The cost of household goods isn’t the only thing that will be affected by season after season of extreme hurricanes. Lalaina emphasizes that “hurricane damages affect every part of Madagascar,” meaning that no one in the community will be left untouched. Of course, this will have a psychological impact on the community in addition to a practical and physical one. Lalaina believes, however, that the “‘door to door’ communication developed by the women will contribute positively” to the community’s ability to stay calm, even in the face of natural disaster.
“A moment to recover”
International Women’s Day is cause for widespread celebration in Maroantsetra. Traditionally, the community celebrates the women with parades filled with music and dancing which are followed by communal meals prepared by the men. While the community’s traditions look different in the face of COVID-19, the day is still recognized as the biggest event of the year for the women of Maroantsetra. After hearing even a little bit about daily life for women in Maroantsetra, it’s easy to understand why this day has such significance. Perhaps similar to Mother’s Day here in the United States, it’s one day of 365 during which the community’s women are recognized and celebrated for the tireless work they do to keep the world running. For once, the women get to relax and drink and dance while the men do the work. In Lalaina’s words, “it is a moment to recover from the pain, to forget the difficulty of life and also to gather enough energy to keep going until the next women's day.”
On this International Women’s Day, may Lalaina’s reflection stay with you. May you have a moment to recover from the pain that is so constant in our world, and may you find the energy to make it through another year. And, above all else, may you think of the women of the world who do the unseen labor day after day. Without them, after all, where would we be?
Thank you to Lalaina for her grace and openness in sharing her story with us all.