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Additional Coverage Special Report—Haiti

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.

• Read an assessment of the earthquake's impact on Haiti's women's movement in Honoring the Ancestors.

• 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 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.

SPECIAL REPORT: Haiti, Women, and the Elections: Following Africa's Lead

What about Mme. Manigat? Won’t women vote for a woman—even one from the elite? Manigat, a university professor and ex-First Lady, is well known, politically seasoned, and an intellectual. “The most popular will be Mme. Manigat,” agrees Policar, who nevertheless plans to back Dr. Bijou. “But I won’t vote for her because I remember in 2006 when her husband asked her not to run… and she accepted that.” She’s referring to Mme. Manigat’s decision to decline a Senate seat she won after her husband Leslie lost his presidential bid the same year. He led the Rassemblement des Démocrates Nationaux, or RDNP party (Assembly of Progressive National Democrats) for 27 years before making room for his wife to run in August. Not everyone is convinced he’s actually retired. “I think maybe if she becomes president her husband will control her,” adds Policar, voicing her doubts about a possible political twofera—Hil-n-Bill Clinton-type presidency.

Others view the prospect of a woman as an automatic plus. “It would be great to have a woman as president because many years before, women were trying to have a leader, a person women could count on to change the face of our country,” says Cashnar Polycarpe Desir, a journalist with Refraka, a women’s community radio network. “That would be a great step because women would have the right to have health, education, to have protection, and to decide for the country.” Marjorie Jolicoeur of the Platforme des Femmes Citoyennes puts it more bluntly: “You’d better vote for a woman if you want change now. Haiti has had 15 years with men as presidents.”

Learning from Liberia

The Platforme formed post-quake with the express purpose of promoting women’s leadership. That’s also the mission of Fanm Yo La, and Femmes en Dèmocratie, the Haitian branch of Vital Voices. These groups are focused on seeding change from the bottom, up – at the local level. Their targets are municipal races and Haiti’s Parliament.

Some point to Liberia and Rwanda— two post-disaster societies where many women took office—as models for Haiti.

“There are reports from the World Bank that women are less corruptible,” says Danielle St. Lot, a former Minister of Commerce who is leading the charge at Femmes en Démocratie. “They also have to prove their capacity. It’s not like a gift for them when they are elected -- they fight for it. So when they are in power, they deliver.” Her group believes that putting more women into power at the local level and Congress could yield for Haiti what’s occurred in parts of Africa: increasing investments in children's health, education, social justice, and economic stability.

Pre-quake, Haiti had more than 70 different parties sitting in parliament, but women made up less than 13% of Haiti’s senate and 4% of lower chamber. At press time, 45 women were campaigning for the 99 seats in the Congress, out of 816 total candidates (5%), and eight women were eying the 30 Senate seats, out of a total of 95 candidates (8%). Many are leaders of women’s organizations that Femmes en Démocratie has been working with for years. “Some are former candidates that ran in 2006,” explains St. Lot. “We’re going to support them in terms of technical assistance, coaching in communications, and electoral message development.”

Given the current lineup, there’s a good chance that St. Lot will be encouraged on November 28— at least for the future.

“We think that if we have 20 qualified women—women respected in their community with a vision for their country—it can really make a difference, especially in this reconstruction,” she adds.

“The president needs to be a woman who has a feminist heart, someone who has the ability to defend women,” agrees Yolette Mengual of the Platforme, who’s ready for a Haitian Ellen Sirleaf Johnson—or many. “We need more women in Congress. We are ready for the women to lead us forward.” . . .

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