Madagascar is the largest island in the Indian Ocean group, with a population of more than 21 million. The country regularly faces major natural hazards, which include cyclones and tropical storms, floods, droughts and locust invasions. Madagascar is also vulnerable to climate change and has seen increasing extreme weather events in recent years. The country has witnessed 46 natural disasters over the past 35 years, cumulatively affecting more than 11 million people.

Despite its best efforts to include all community members in its programmes, Croix Rouge Malagasy noticed that many groups were still being underrepresented in community decision-making processes. To address this issue, a pilot project was initiated with support from the IFRC, as part of an ongoing programme in Fanamby, to create a more contemporary and equitable  system of participation and decision-making.

The National Society worked with traditional leaders and chiefs of each village to obtain agreement to extend their current participation systems, in order to provide representation from a wider cross-section of the community. A particular area of concern was the participation of women in the communities. While this was raised as an issue, the programme team discovered that directly suggesting the participation of women in decision-making was often the most likely way to elicit initial resistance, so an effective solution was to negotiate representation of all of the different segments in the community, including women.

The result of these conversations was the development of a new committee system in each participatin village, called the ‘KOIF’. National Society staff and volunteers worked with the community to build consensus on what groups should be represented in the KOIF and the result was a broad cross section of community representatives that included farmers and
teachers, as well as people from churches and local authorities. Consideration was given to age, gender and disability as well.

In addition to establishing the KOIF, a series of ‘women’s associations’ was proposed as well. These associations were intended to help local women come together, in order to become accustomed to and prepared for increased participation in decision-making processes.

An evaluation of the initiative in December 2015 found strong evidence that the new systems are contributing to a transformation of community dynamics, power structures and building a stronger sense of community cohesion and resilience. One quote from the consultation states: “Before, it was just the leaders involved in decision-making and now all
the community are involved.”

Despite the initial resistance to women’s participation, communities were able to negotiate agreement for the establishment of the women’s associations and these have readily been accepted and have had an extremely positive impact for the women. Those interviewed for the consultation claimed that they now have more initiatives as a result of the women’s associations and have recently started a livelihoods project, which is earning them money. Others highlighted the ways in which they were more active in the community, and the fact that men listened to their opinions. One participant commented, “Introducing women into the decision-making has changed the way things happen. Since the new system, we are more active and the men listen to us more.”