Women’s rights activists in Haiti

Two weeks ago, I met with two young women from Port-au-Prince. Not directly linked with my activities as a volunteer for AxS, it was an interesting moment for me, a kind of continuation of my previous thoughts on feminism in Haiti.

Mardochee and Stephora came down to Jacmel especially to meet me, making some space in there busy schedule for me. They are both member of a young feminist organization, promoting gender equality and raising awareness against gender based violence. They are in favor of the emancipation of women in Haiti, and the integration of young women in the society. Mardochee is 22, she is the coordinator of AJFCDHA (Association of Young Women for the Culture and Development of Haiti). I was impressed by her commitment and strength despite of her youth. She also works part time for another feminist organization and finds time to go to the State University where she studies Sociology. She explained she decided to commit to the feminist cause because of the general lack of importance given to women and violence towards them in the Haitian society. Stephora is a bit older, she is 26 years old and she seems even more determined. She studied Law and she is currently writing her thesis on Children in domesticity. I soon realized they were volunteers, as I am, and the exchange grew even more interesting after that. In the end, Mardochee, Stephora and I are doing the same thing at different levels in Haiti. I have been helping AxS team to include women in their activities, in order to empower them, which is basically what Mardochee and Stephora are doing, with their own means, and their own ways.

They explained their activities, consisting in awareness raising and sensitization on women’s rights and gender based violence. They can directly see their positive effect: since the group started its activities in 2008, more  young girls victims of violence decided to file a complaint. They also support and encourage their 37 members to get in the State University, something of importance when you know that most of the drops out of school are from girls. They have a direct impact on their community, since they triggered some community activism. Participants to their workshops started to act, voluntarily, at church, at school, and any other gathering to promote women’s rights and fight gender based violence.

DSC_0055

The members are all young women, under 30 years old. They participate to the general feminist debate but struggle to get their point of view taken into account: their youth is their advantage, but it is also their disadvantage. They don’t have the strength of the other (older) feminist organizations. They don’t even have a proper office… Nevertheless, the group manages to participate to the Haitian Feminist forum. For example, they were present at the 25th anniversary of Fanm Deside (meaning «decided women» in creole), created in 1989 and one of the most powerful and recognized feminist organization in the South East, but also in the whole country. For the occasion, they reunited all the feminist organizations from the country, to summarize the action of feminism in the country and what way they should take to make better the lives of Haitian women. A trigger moment for women’s cause in Haiti. I met with Fanm Deside this week. They provide training on gender based violence, reproductive and sexual health, women’s rights and assists victims of violence during the entire process of complaint, from the medical visits to the prosecution. They are advocates for women’s access to the arcade of power and decisions. Fanm Deside has more than 1000 members in Jacmel, and 35 feminist groups affiliated, creating an important circle of discussion and debate. Recently, feminist activists managed to get important laws passed by the Haitian Parliament, like one on responsible paternity promulgated last summer.

These two meetings brought me back to my thoughts on feminism in Haiti. Strong and dynamic, they are now focused on reducing gender based violence and getting better basic human rights. As a part of my volunteer mission, meeting these organizations is fundamental. Like I previously said, I am a gender person, but more importantly, I am a feminist who believes that changes must come from within a society. Knowing such groups as AJFCDHA and Fanm Deside exist reassured me concerning women’s situation in Haiti.

Written by Irina Blanche