Additional Coverage Special Report—Haiti
This story is just one article in our special report on Haiti's women's movement.
We'll be adding more stories in the coming weeks—for now, take a look at other articles in this series.
• Internationally acclaimed author and memoirist Edwidge Danticat on her homeland, post disaster.
• View photographer Nadia Todres's powerful photo essay, Documenting the Lives of Girls in Haiti.
• Read Didi Bertrand's column, Bearing Witness: Girls and Women in Haiti's Camps.
• Take a look at SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti Elections—Why Vote for a Woman? to read interviews with Haiti's three female presidential candidates to learn more about their platforms.
• Read the first story in this series, SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti, Women, and the Elections, which takes an in-depth look at women on the ground and the upcoming elections.
• Read World Pulse and Anne-christine d'Adesky's previous coverage on the earthquake, Holding Up Haiti: Women Respond to Nightmare Earthquake, published shortly after news broke of the devastating earthquake.
Haiti: Honoring the Ancestors
“We had a dramatic situation last January,” says Danielle Magloire, a human rights advocate and director of the Haitian branch of Rights and Democracy, an NGO focusing on judicial reform and women’s rights. A tall, poised woman with graying dreadlocks, Magloire represents the modern face of Haiti’s steadily growing women’s movement and opposition political intelligentsia.
“When the government built its plan, it did not include us,” adds Magloire.
“We made many declarations concerning that. They never asked us what we want to do. So how can we say we participate in this? We cannot.”
That’s not to say the women haven’t been vocal. Feminist leaders have testified before the UN, European groups, and countless visiting foreign politicians to complain about both the Haitian government and the international aid community’s failure to, in Magloire’s words, “respect” Haitian women. Foreign aid groups, she says, “should [work] with organizations that already exist, not that were created just because Haiti had an earthquake. Somehow, they don’t really respect us in Haiti.”
Instead, she feels, Haitian women are now competing with international NGOs to rent offices.
“We have so many NGOs, so many agencies, so much money. They can rent houses for fortunes.” She’s barely joking when she jibes, “I don’t know why all the NGOs who came don’t live in tents, because they are not going to stay. They take up all the good houses in Port-au-Prince. Ordinary people can’t rent a house. For me, that’s really insulting for Haitian people. It’s not helping us.”
Magloire is not alone among feminist leaders to mince no words about the failure by those in power, at home or abroad to actually help Haitians, particularly women. But like Pierre-Paul at SOFA, her group is less focused on what the big players will or won’t do, and more focused on how to begin improving things on the local level.
“The earthquake showed us the real necessity, which is to work with the community, and to decentralize,” explains Magloire. She adds that women’s groups are turning their focus to rural areas because the situation for women is growing more difficult there—an aftershock of sorts. Rapid post-quake migration of tens of thousands of traumatized urban residents to the countryside has severely taxed already limited rural resources and land.
First Steps: Surveying the Damage, Mourning the Lost
For weeks after the quake, Magloire’s office consisted of a folding chair set up in a courtyard of Rue Babiole, one of the arteries of the Babiole area of Port-au-Prince where her office building miraculously survived, but displayed some cracks.
Here, like at SOFA, the group’s first steps post-quake were concentrated on helping injured or homeless staff. Then came the focus on helping displaced camp residents. Both steps took place as they personally grieved the loss of loved ones—and the loss of their own feminist leaders.
The earthquake not only killed 220,000 Haitians and initially displaced an estimated 1.3 million; it also killed far more women than men, according to estimates made by UNIFEM, which recently stated that “several indicators allow the assumption that approximately two-thirds of those killed were women, due to their poor housing conditions.” Among them were women considered the “poto mitan”—or pillars of the Haitian women’s movement, including General Director of the Ministry of Women’s Condition and Women’s Rights Myrna Narcisse Theodore and the feminists Myriam Merlet, Anne- Marie Coriolan, Magalie Marcelin, and Mireille Anglade. The list goes on. . . .