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
That’s also what women’s groups working in the provinces like MUDHA in Leogane, or Fanm Deside in Jacmel, are successfully doing in camps where women have taken the reins.
“I can’t say we have progress because we’re still in the same position,” states Soeurette Policar of the Lig Pouvwa Fanm, a relatively new women’s rights group. “We don’t have a building for our office and we can’t pay our staff.”
Like her colleagues, Policar stepped up overnight to become interim director at her job to replace her boss, who died in the earthquake. A dynamic, youthful woman and strong feminist, Policar represents the new generation of Haitian women who are more than ready for more leadership, and who have big dreams, but haven’t yet accessed the resources to get started.
For now, her group is camped out in borrowed offices. Shortly after the quake, her group of some 60 members began doing outreach to displaced families in camps.
She feels that what’s needed most is confidence and skills-building “to help women develop the skills to speak up and to stand up and say, ‘We can do that, we can fix that, we can help.’”
As a newly minted director, she is inspired by the courage she witnessesin the women she hopes to help. “I see a lot of women trying to be involved. We still have people saying that we have to stay in the back and let men do things, but we need women to be part of all the decisions that are made. As women, we know every part of the family. If you don’t have us at the table trying to think and to see what we can do to rebuild the country, to rebuild our family, they are going to pass out of the goal.” By that she means that the big plan will fail.
As a newcomer to the field, Policar says it’s not always easy to get support from other women’s groups, especially established players. That’s true of large and foreign NGOs too: They compete for resources instead of collaborating.
The result is that Haiti’s 100-year-old women’s movement remains fractured, a loose but powerful network of groups and individual leaders with a common focus on women’s rights but often very different, and even opposing agendas. That’s one reason why as a social change movement women lack a better seat at the table of power—as a voting member of the Haitian National Reconstruction Commission, for example.
“We do need to have greater unity, while respecting our differences,” said SOFA’s Pierre-Paul in January, acknowledging the tensions that have long existed. “But the earthquake has also opened our eyes to the urgent need for better organizing. We know we have to do that.” One bright spot that has developed: new or renewed partnerships with Diaspora feminists and groups who are offering resources, training, and help.
What Lies Ahead
Looking ahead, the upcoming elections on November 28 represent a moment when a number of Haitian women will vie for both the presidency and equally critical Parliamentary and local municipal seats. Few women leaders interviewed expressed much excitement or hope that the election will spell real change for women, however they are encouraged by new female faces in the political landscape—the next generation of Haiti’s women leaders.
And they are encouraged by the support of women and women’s groups in the international community. These alliances have provided funding for schools, orphanages, women’s clinics, and trauma centers—here, the list is even longer. They include well-established NGOs like Dwa Fanm in Brooklyn, Fanm in Miami’s Little Haiti, and Canadian activists inspired by the outspoken leadership of their Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, a daughter of Haiti. In the US, a new Haiti donor’s network has formed to channel funds to grassroots Haiti women’s groups.
“Little by little we advance,” said Carole Pierre-Paul in January, and then again in April—a refrain echoed today by others. “But we are advancing.” Or, as the women leaders chanted in March, honoring their dead: Fanm yo frape fo, N a sonje, N a Vanse! “Women, hit hard, we’re aware and we’re moving forward!”
Anne-Christine d’Adesky is a long-time journalist and author with roots in Haiti. She is a regular contributor to World Pulse Magazine.
Jacob Kushner works in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and
previously reported for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and La Communidad News in Madison, Wisconsin.