Haitian Women Regroup, Rebuild

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Haitian women's rights activists are still living in tents and cars, and mourning the loss of three leaders in the January earthquake. They are also organizing. A loose-knit coalition hopes to rebuild a more women-centered Haiti.

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Mural recalling the January earthquake in Haiti.(WOMENSENEWS)--A loose-knit coalition of 106 organizations called Femmes Citoyennes Haiti Solidaire, or Women Citizens Haiti United, has emerged from the devastation of the January earthquake to lobby for women's advancement during the recovery efforts.

Part of their inspiration comes from wanting to carry on for three leaders lost in the disaster, according to phone interviews with Haitian women's advocates on the ground and experts who closely follow Haiti in the United States.

The activists have no office but are managing to reach each other through e-mail and text messages, according to Martine Fourcand, a sociologist and activist who handles the group's communication. The coalition formed on March 19, but continues to attract longstanding organizations to its membership.

Souerette Policar Montjoie is president of Lig Pouva Fanm, a women's leadership organization in Port-au-Prince that joined the coalition.

"We have a lot of things to say and Haitian women are very strong," she told Women's eNews in a phone interview. "But in Haiti, the position of men is higher than women. We want men to know that we can put our hands together. They don't have to fight us."

Women Citizens Haiti United members range from a collective of female university students to a network of women working in rural community organizations. Members represent an array of special projects: curbing domestic and sexual violence, as well as improving women's access to credit, job training and education.

In the past three months organizers have met with the prime minister of Haiti and helped members coordinate with U.N. aid officers in the country. They want women to participate in all major decision bodies--local governments, municipalities and ministries. They intend to build a Haiti where women no longer suffer high levels of sexual violence and marginalization at home and in the paid work force.

Women of Less Importance

In Haiti women have not been as important as men, said Montjoie. "Now we are living without electricity and water and wondering if we'll see the end of this."

One of the group's most urgent goals is pushing for women's security in the camps and streets. Organizers are preparing a guide for urban development that envisions spaces with well-lit streets and safe places for women to meet.

In the longer term, the activists hope to form partnerships with women's movements in other countries.

"There is an amazing initiative taking place by leading women in Haiti from all levels, from rural women to the regional and national level," said Caroyln Rose-Avila, vice president of policy and engagement at Plan USA, a nonprofit in Warick, R.I., and the third largest charity working in Haiti. "Haiti lost three well-known women in the earthquake and there is a massive grassroots movement in honor of them."

Magalie Marcelin opened Haiti's first shelter for battered women; she was among the roughly 300,000 killed in the earthquake.

Myriam Merlet, chief of staff for Haiti's Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women, and Anne Marie Coriolan, who worked in the courts to criminalize rape, which was treated as a crime of passion before 2005, were also killed by the disaster.

"These women were trailblazers in many regards," said Marie Clotilde Charlot, a longtime women's rights activist who works as a lead portfolio monitoring specialist for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.

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