‘Men’s greedy needs to assault women reduce as women wear modest clothes. It is therefore every parent’s duty to guide their daughters towards the right path and stop them from wearing revealing clothes and exposing themselves.’
This is the message (since deleted) that was published on the Ministry of Education’s Facebook page on April 12, 2019, as the Malagasy government urged women not to wear revealing clothes in order to avoid being sexually assaulted.
In response, many Malagasy women shared pictures of themselves on social media wearing skirts or dresses using the hashtag #MaJupeMonDroit (My Skirt My Right) to voice their outrage at this sexist request that essentially shames victims instead of sanctioning men’s aggressive behavior.
The wave of protests rapidly spread online in Madagascar.
The movement started on social media by the Malagasy NGO Nifin’Akanga, which is fighting to decriminalize abortion. On the same day of the Ministry’s post, Nifin’Akanga responded quickly on Facebook, inviting the Malagasy online community to participate in an online campaign.
They were joined by activists in the country and members of the Malagasy diaspora. Many activists also used the internationally-recognized hashtag #StopRapeCulture.
An editor in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, Soa Anina, listed on her blog 30 answers to 30 stereotypes of this movement. Here are a few of them:
“No, the “sexual needs of predators” will not be kept under control this way, and certainly not if they benefit from the support of the Ministry.
‘‘The government is only avoiding the issue by pointing the finger at the victim instead of the guilty abuser. No, it is not the responsibility of women to handle men’s and boys’ behaviours: men have to learn to behave with dignity in all circumstances, and parents need to educate their boys to become men. (…) The truth is, no garment will ever protect you. It is not about the garment: the pervert perpetrates the crime not because of his libido, but because he gets his pleasure from power, control and domination, all unrelated to the clothing worn, even if deemed “too sexy”.
The protest storm continued and was amplified by the national newspapers and online publications. Nasolo Valiavo Andriamiahaja is an editor for the newspaper l’Express de Madagascar.
He associates all types of restrictive policies on clothing to a regression of women’s rights.
He recalls an anecdote from the King of Morocco during his temporary forced exile in Madagascar:
“The Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun shares that the king of Morocco Mohammed V did not hesitate to show off his daughters without the scarf, upon his return from Antsirabe (a province of Madagascar) in 1956, where the French colonial administration had exiled him.
“Between the nineteen fifties and the start of the nineteen eighties, most Moroccan women had stopped wearing the scarf. They were wearing the djellaba and kept their head uncovered. It was the Iranian revolution and Khomeyni’s demagogic speeches that brought the scarf back.”
Following this uproar, the Ministry of Education formally apologized in a press release, putting an end to the storm.
But for a number of activists and journalists like Antananarivo-based Mbolatiana Raveloarimisa, the fight is not over:
“A lot of comments were trying to shame women instead of supporting the movement. This sad incident is only the catalyst that opened our eyes to a hidden reality. In Malagasy society, violence against women is only the tip of a huge iceberg.
The entire administration is only the crystallisation of a national silence on violence against women.”