Women, agriculture and development in Haiti

According to the FAO, “ensuring women’s access to and control over agricultural assets and productive resources is important for achieving food security and sustainable livelihoods”. In the line of the principle 20 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted in 1992, the position of the FAO recognizes that full participation of women is essential to achieving sustainable development. UN Women recently produced a world survey on the role of women in development, concluding the same.

“Linking gender equality with sustainable development is important for several reasons. It is a moral and ethical imperative.” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

In Haiti, like everywhere else around the world, it is important to promote gender mainstreaming in development project and humanitarian assistance. Women constitute around 50% of the world’s population, a bit more in Haiti, according to the last surveys. So, in Haiti, women are essential actresses of development, being a central element of the Haitian society, and homes: they are called “poto mitan”, which literally means “central pillar” in Creole. Yet, they don’t have any place in politics – less than 3% of women are present in the Parliament – and they mostly hold an informal role in the economy. Poto Mitan also means that men relay on women to do most of the domestic work: women are the one holding the household together, it is their task. In the agricultural sector, they participate in almost every step of the process, from planting to commercialization, again, most of the time, quite informally.One of the problems in Haiti is the lack of information concerning this topic. After the various workshops I held and the different mission I have accompanied on the field, I understood that there is strength in women of the rural areas. I met very few people (if not no one) openly denying their role in the society…

Women heading to the local market (or coming back from it) (photo taken by Silvia D'all Osto)

In his book, L’énigme du retour, Dany Laferrière (Haitian author who exiled for several years in Canada during the Duvalier’s regime) wrote these lines about them:

« Elles descendent à la file / They go down in file; Le long des falaises / Along the cliffs; Des montagnes de fruits sur la tête / Mountains of fruits upon their heads; Dos droits / Back Straights; Nuque en sueur / Sweating Neck; Élégance sous l’effort / Elegant under the effort ».

During my mission with Alianza por la Solidaridad, I helped mainstream gender in the various projects, mainly focusing in agricultural development, livelihood support, and disaster risks reduction. Integrating gender in such activities demands an intense gender analysis. As I said, women already have an important workload, taking care of the household. They often do a double day of work – their job (informal or formal) and their housekeeping duties. Therefore, it is important to consider this before organizing any new activity supposed to include women so they won’t end up with a triple day of work. From what I saw, even if it is not done on purpose, women are already integrated in the activities. So, I created gender tools that can be used after my mission as EU Aid Volunteer is finished, in order to systematize a more global and effective gender approach in the projects led by AxS in Haiti, hoping it would help a little bit recognize the role of women and strengthen their position in agricultural area.

Written by Irina Blanche