Feminism in Haiti

While giving a gender training for AxS’s Staff in Jacmel, some confusion appeared. As in almost every part of the world, there were some serious misunderstandings on what feminism means. “Feminists hates men”, “feminism is the opposite of machismo”, and so on and on (nb: this is not what my colleagues said, but what I heard in some other parts of the world…). At some point, I almost feel that being told you are a feminist might be an insult. It was necessary to clarify and explain that these assumptions are false. Feminism is an ensemble of political, philosophical and social ideas, seeking to define, promote and establish women’s rights within the civil society, but also in the private sphere. Its objective is to abolish inequalities suffered by women. That does not mean feminism is a movement opposed to men. It is a movement against machismo, sexism and patriarchy but it is not against men and it is not a bad thing. It is for a society where men and women are considered equal, living in an equitable world, benefiting from the same rights, the same opportunities. I am always proud to say I am a feminist and I actually believe that the best feminists might be men, they are our best allies. One of the best examples of this is this awesome speech given by Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy, the vampire slayer…): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDmzlKHuuoI

 In Haiti, feminism is a long and strong story. At the end of the US occupation in 1934, women were among those who wanted to shape the future of Haiti, they were pretty active in the national economy, but did not have the right to vote. A group of women from the elite created the Ligue Féministe d’Action Sociale (LFAS). Led by Alice Garoute and Madeleine Sylvain Bouchereau, they argued that the future of the country will depend on gender equality (women’s education, access to civil rights such as the right to vote…). However, at this time, men and women agreed with the patriarchal system where women were inferior to men, therefore unqualified to vote. It took time to change these long learnt views, and the debate became quite aggressive in 1946. Nevertheless, in April 1950, the LFAS displayed its strength by reuniting 500 delegates from Haitian women’s organizations and international organization to the First National Congress of Haitian Women, ultimate success of the women’s suffrage movement. Few months later, on November 4, Haitian Women won the right to vote in all local and national elections.

During the Duvalier’s regime, political freedom was denied to all women, and the feminist’s movement merged with the anti-dictatorship movement in 1965. Thousands of Haitian women forced into exile in the Americas or in Europe were exposed to rising feminist consciousness, structuring even more their fight around women’s rights and gender equality. The contemporary Haitian women’s movements accompanied the downfall of the Duvalier’s regime in 1986. Since then, with ups and downs, the Feminist movement kept acting for gender equality, leading to the creation of the Ministère de la Condition Féminine et du Droit des Femmes (Ministry for feminine conditions and women’s right – MCFDF) in 1994 and the participation to Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, and to major changes in favor of women in the legislation.

Haitian women lost a lot in the earthquake, the state’s ability the enforce women’s rights being extremely weak, as proved by the limited budget allowed to the MCFDF. The women’s movement in Haiti still has a lot to do in Haiti, the gender consciousness being ignored by most men, the argument that gender equality is essential for a sustainable and efficient development is not taken into account by all.

I found Haitian women inspiring, they are beautifully strong. They have lived through so many dire circumstances, at the hand of repressive governments which have ruled almost constantly the country for more than two centuries, victims of rapes (used as a weapon of war in the 1991 coup), assassinations, torture… and then their life got dramatically changed on January 12, 2010…

And yet they lived and their movement survived. And, they will keep acting to change their country for the better.

written by Irina Blanche