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Article about the role Haitian Women must play in rebuilding (Miami Herald)

Heed their voices, let them lead

With the commemoration of International Women's Day on Monday, the world's attention focused on women's trials, tribulations and triumphs. It is well documented that when times are hard, women and children fare worse than men.

I travel extensively in the course of my work. In Guatemala, Venezuela, Brussels, Switzerland, Martinique, the Philippines, I've had a front row seat to witness women's courage, unstoppable determination, resilience and strong leadership qualities. The women of Haiti impress me beyond measure. Nowhere have I seen such fierceness and resilience.

I visited 12 camps after the recent earthquake ravaged Haiti's weak infrastructure. The television images did not do justice to the level of destruction and utter desolation. I saw babies too weak to suckle their mother's breasts, the sick and newly discharged sleeping on cold floors. The misery and indescribable conditions tugged at the deepest recesses of my soul. My heart bled.

The women were not crying, though. They took matters in their own hands to organize life in the tents. They cooked and shared food with those in the camp, blood-related or not. They tended to the sick, elderly and children. They took advantage of their sheer numbers to mount a resistance against the robbers and other undesirables that roamed the camps. They organized a ``sleep rotation system'' for the men in the camp, young or old, to combat the rape of women and girls.

Women are the backbone of Haiti's economy, yet, they are not represented in the nation's decision-making process.

By historically keeping women out of the political leadership, Haiti squandered its chances of developing a viable, sustainable and thriving nation. Haitian women make up over half the population. Their representation in the Cabinet and chambers should be proportional to their true numbers for their voices to be heard.

Women must take a leadership role in the rebuilding process to prevent another 200 years' legacy of ``the more things change, the more they remain the same.''

Haiti has to root out corruption at all levels of government and in its institutions. The judicial system must be reformed so that those who plunder government coffers are held accountable. The pillaging and an obstructionist and selfish mentality need to change. Haiti's leaders have a duty and a responsibility to put their personal ambitions aside, develop a ``plan de societe'' with the contributions of all the nation's voices, in collaboration with those in the diaspora.

There are many untapped talents and leaders in Haiti. They only need an opportunity to rise and serve.

Haitian Americans in the diaspora are just waiting for a nod to sprint to Haiti and contribute their skills and resources. They should have been the most lobbied entity by the Haitian government. Yet, Haitians in the diaspora have yet to receive a visit by Haiti's leaders. Talk about misplaced priorities!

The Haitian-American diaspora's $1.17 billion annual contribution has no strings attached. It's unconditional!

In memory of Haiti's most revered feminists: Myriam Merlet, Magalien Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan and the thousands of women who perished during the earthquake, Haiti must make room for its women to finally lead. This is a condition sine qua non -- indispensable for a stable and prosperous future.

Marleine Bastien is Executive Director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Inc./Haitian Women of Miami.

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