Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wedding Crashers

In our preliminary interviews with Dr. Rabary and her application, Dr Rabary mentioned civil status as a major factors in women’s rights. In most simple terms we equate civil status to a birth registration and/or social security card. Without it, your access to work, education, marriage is all limited. Malagasy people have to pay to get their children registered and unfortunately girls are often not registered because of the expense. Without registration a civil marriage ceremony is not possible and in turn, in the case of divorce, a woman has not rights for money or division of assets, if she was never registered.

Dr. Rabary and the center also work to improve women’s civil status, and we had the chance to see how this played out in a Civil wedding ceremony. Dr. Rabary often reminded us that lack of education/knowledge is a huge barrier and as such, they’ve integrated education into wedding ceremonies to help women understand their rights up front.

We arrived at what is the equivalent to a city hall in the U.S. to witness a civil wedding ceremony. Thanks to our driver Arthur, we were able to pick up a beautiful bouquet of flowers to present to the Mayors office for use during the ceremonies. Tons of families are lined up outside waiting for their families turn to be wed. We were greeted by the Mayor’s designee to perform the wedding ceremonies. As we took seats in the back of the room, it occurs to me how I (Joanne) feel like a wedding crasher. I remind myself that the bride and groom have been informed of our presence and have agreed to allow us to film the ceremony and attend. The ceremony itself is fascinating to me because the official from the Mayor’s office openly discuss divorce (both parties are entitled to half the assets) and family planning with the couple during the ceremony. The woman is 18 and the man is 28. They react shyly to the questions regarding how many children they want, the official states, jokingly, that there are only ten spaces in their family registry and to try to keep the number of children under ten! The joy of the day for this couple is on the faces of everyone attending the wedding. It was truly an amazing experience. Dr. Rabary insists that we stay for another ceremony and we do.

After the ceremony, we return to UNFPA offices to attend a press conference regarding our visit and Dr. Rabary’s work. I was again impressed with Dr. Rabary, she was concise and very media savvy. I (Angeline) can’t help but be a little surprised at how well media outside of the U.S. covers UNFPA’s work. Last year in Mongolia, when we visited Dr. Munkhuu, our arrival and Dr. Munkhuu’s winning of our International Award actually made breaking news on television. In Cambodia, when I visited Ms. Noeun, I was overwhelmed by the questions of the media and how much they wanted to know about Americans for UNFPA’s work. The press, both in Cambodia and in Madagascar actually hung out after the Press Conference just to get to know us and learn more.

In the afternoon we attended a Train-the-Trainer session that was part of the new CRS funded project. The training was helping in Dr. Rabary’s home in a bottom floor large conference room. In the midst of graduate students most of whom were just a few years younger than me, I’d guess, it was crazy to think I was in Madagascar. The students could have been in New York—they had the same style, hairdos, attention span, etc. as you see when you walk into any classroom. Many of the women filled out their lifelines so you should check them out.