By Bannon Jones, III Form
The Fight for Women’s Rights in Haiti
Haiti has had a long, rigorous history starting in 1492 when the Spanish Inquisition conquered Haiti and ruled until 1697. After 1697 the French took control of Haiti, they brought enslaved people from Africa and also enslaved the native people of Haiti. France used them to produce sugar cane, soon making Haiti the richest colony in the world at the time. In 1790 there were 40,000 white French people, 30,000 freed slaves, and 450,000 enslaved people. The Haitian Slave Revolts began in 1791 and, due to how outnumbered the French were by the enslaved people, it became one of the few successful slave revolutions in history. Haiti soon after gained full independence in 1804. Throughout Haiti’s history, they have not had much time to focus on their own people, which may explain the reason why women’s rights in Haiti are gravely lacking. NGOs like USAID, Doctors Without Borders, MicroCredit, and WomenOne are slowly helping to change this through strengthening laws around women’s rights, increasing women’s healthcare, helping women to have small businesses, and increasing women’s education.
One of the first steps in securing more women’s rights in Haiti is to change the laws. These new laws should address and stop the many astonishing statistics on women’s rights. The Haitian Constitution says that there should be no violence, physical or sexual, no workplace discrimination and allows for women to be political leaders. Unfortunately, the court systems and the laws have not always upheld them well. For example, one in three Haitian women between 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence, and this number is underreported because of the fear of reprisals or social repercussions. Women seeking political office often face harassment or threats. It is clear that the constitution while saying that it wants to help is not doing anything to enforce that. Laws fail to include most forms of gender-based violence and give almost no protection to victims, for example, rape was not illegal in Haiti until 2005, and prior to that it was considered a “moral offense” and went unpunished. Haiti’s criminal justice system does little to protect women and girls from rape or gender-based violence. Additionally, law enforcement and medical practitioners cannot agree on how to record evidence of rape, making it very hard to make a case against an offender when there is no proof. Despite these saddening statistics, programs like USAID are bringing hope to women across Haiti.
US Aid is an organization that works to promote women’s rights throughout Haiti mainly through making legal changes. USAID’s goals are: to create more effective law enforcement, work to provide more community outreach, increase literacy rates, and create economic empowerment. USAID worked directly with the Haitian government to help it pass laws to prevent human trafficking, and USAID also helped pass a law to promote good parenting. Another law that USAID helped to pass in 2013 made marital rape illegal. The law made sexual harassment illegal, legalized abortion in the first trimester if the women’s health is at risk, and it placed laws to help protect Haiti’s LGBT community from discrimination5. Additionally, USAID has also helped women in office by drafting a national gender and election strategy, creating a hotline for female candidates to report security issues, creating The Political Leadership Academy for hundreds of women in different political parties, and collaborating with female politicians to promote gender-sensitive political programs. USAID has been working hard to promote women’s rights and have been doing an effective job. It has passed many important laws that were needed and necessary.without them women’s rights in Haiti would not be where they are today. While the legal changes are needed to help Haitian women in the long run, organization like Doctors Without Borders help women at the moment by providing healthcare.
Doctors Without Borders is an organization that helps where the need is greatest throughout the world. It provides aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. In this case, the place with the greatest need for help in Haiti and it is providing healthcare for women, who are excluded from care. In May 2015, Doctors Without Borders, or DWB, opened a clinic in Port Au Prince called Pran Men’s clinic (Creole for taking my hand) which provides medical and psychological care for survivors of GBV (Gender-based violence). More than 1,300 survivors have been treated at the clinic. 77% were younger than 25 and more than half were minors, 53% under 18. Around 83% of patients who attended the clinic were rape survivors1, but GBV can take many forms of victims besides rape, all of which are treated by the Pran Men’s clinic. The clinic is open 24/7, which is what makes it different from most other clinics which close at 6pm. 38% of survivors come between 6pm and 12pm when most other clinics are closed. Many women have to come at odd hours to avoid being seen or for other personal reasons. This is what separates DWB from other clinics in Haiti. They think about what makes it the easiest for women to get help and then it works extra hard to make it happen.
“There is a high risk of being further exposed to violence if the survivor does not receive adequate psychological care because she will not realize that she is again a victim when psychological support is delivered on time the survivor is empowered and knows that violence, including sexual abuse, is not acceptable. This is critical for young girls.” (Stephanie MSF psychologist)
What Stephanie is saying is that if abused women do not receive help soon, they will not know how to stop the next time they are being abused or they might not even realize they are being abused. This is why the clinic’s work is so important because it provides helps to stop which in turn the cycle of GBV that many women can spiral into when they do not receive help. Another way for women to stay out of the cycle of GBV is to become involved in their own business so they can be independent of others, Saint Marks has a program that helps women do just that.
Saint Mark’s school is a school in California that works with Saint Marguerite’s, a Haitian school in Latornelle. Saint Mark’s sets up a program that helps women in Haiti by giving them loans so that women can purchase goods (textiles, produce, cooking supplies, etc.) from the mountain village of Campon (three-hour hike). Women then either directly sell the goods in Latornelle or make things from them or, bring those to Darbonne or Leogane to be sold at the market. The women make the hike on a weekly basis to the market to buy supplies. This is the third year of the program with most recipients making loan payments on time. They have experienced a recent setback due to the hurricane, but Saint. Mark’s offers a grace period for the women after hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters, which is part of what makes it so special. Saint Mark’s tries hard to consider the women’s needs because they want them to succeed. Also, they do not know exactly how the loans directly affect the quality of life for the women, but they do know that they help them to feed and support their families. Saint Mark’s does not teach women how to buy and sell, but their ability to manage their resources and create a budget is increased through practice. But in order for these women to use these opportunities well, they need to be educated, which is what programs like WomenOne can help with.
Education, or lack thereof, is another big problem for women’s rights in Haiti. Right now Haitians older than 25 have an average of 4.9 years of schooling and only 29% have attended secondary school. Only 50% of Haitian children attend school, and approximately 30% of children attending primary school do not make it to third grade. Sadly, 60% of children will abandon school before sixth grade mostly girls. Over 5,000 schools were damaged or destroyed after the 2010 earthquake8 which weakened an already lacking educational system. Children of mothers who went to primary school are twice as likely to go, and children of literate mothers are 50% more likely to live past the age of five. Haitian girls who do not get an education are more likely to be poor, affected by violence, and have more children8. This statistic is why it is so important to make sure girls receive a proper education. Distance and the costs of uniforms and supplies often make it hard for children to attend school. Many girls only attend school until the age of 7 before being pulled out to help with chores or because families cannot pay high tuitions 8. But Women One is a program that takes a rights-based approach to women’s and girls’ education. They focus on enabling women and girls to pursue their right to education by eliminating the barriers they face or creating new opportunities. For example, Women One helped build a new primary school in Haiti and made each village member sign the BuildOn covenant promising to send girls and boys to their new school in equal numbers. WomenOne also helps support schools in Haiti that are trying to have equal opportunities for both girls and boys. More than 80% of students at the schools supported by WomenOne have successfully completed their school year, and the attendance rate for the school was 95%. This is especially telling since less than 30% of the students who participated in the national exam this year in Haiti passed11. Thanks to WomenOne and many other organizations like it education for girls in Haiti is growing gradually.
All of the NGOs talked about in this paper have all been successful and that is because of the one main factor that I have identified. Out of all of these organizations, none of them disrespect the people already living in Haiti and their way of life just to achieve their goals, even if they thought it was for the “greater good”. They work with the people to create new and better opportunities, places, or systems. While from my research I did not find anything that these organizations did wrong, but I did think of some ways that they could improve further upon what they are already doing. All of these NGOs are making a powerful impact by themselves, but if they were to team up it would make a huge difference. The WomenOne program, which focused on women’s education, and Doctors without Borders, which focused on healthcare, could team up to educate Haitian women on how to become doctors. Those women could then work the DWB clinics. There are also many other combinations that these programs along with many others could do, working together could be the key to helping the fight for women’s rights in Haiti strengthen.
In conclusion, Haiti still has a long road in front of it and there are many abhorrent statistics about women’s safety, healthcare, education and just general rights. Despite this, it is important not to lose hope. There are people around the world that want to help and they help by donating resources, or even by joining programs like the ones mentioned here. There’s a catch though, many of these problems just depend on the Haitian government and how much they are willing to risk for the cause of promoting women’s rights. USAID, among other organizations, are helping the Haitian government to make the tough decisions that are needed to help women gain the rights they need and deserve. Doctors Without Borders helps women’s healthcare by funding already functioning healthcare providers and by creating new healthcare facilities that serve the needs that are often overlooked or forgotten. Doctors Without Borders did this by making a clinic for women, especially ones that were victims of GBV. Education is another obstacle that needs to be addressed for the progression of the women’s rights in Haiti, WomenOne is working slowly to make sure that girls families value getting their girls educated as much as getting their boys educated. Haiti is on a slow road toward a women’s rights revolution. The more people that get involved, and work in a positive manner to get these rights implemented the faster this long overdue revolution will begin.
Bannon Jones is a III Form boarding student from Jamaica Plain, MA. She has a brother and a puppy, and she loves to read.
“Against Their Will: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Against Young People in Haiti.” MSF USA, 12 July 2017, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/against-their-will-sexual-and-gender-based-violence-against-young-people-haiti.
“Barriers to Education for Girls in Haiti.” Global Campaign For Education United States Chapter, 21 Dec. 2015, campaignforeducationusa.org/blog/detail/barriers-to-education-for-girls-in-haiti.
Coupeau, Steeve. “Introduction .” The History of Haiti, Greenwood Press, 2008, pp. 1–15.
Danner, Mark. “To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Jan. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22danner.html.
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“Resources For.” Latin America and Caribbean – Our Goal: Education for All in Haiti, 2015, web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/LACEXT/0,,contentMDK:21896642~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:258554,00.html.
“STRENGTHENING WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN HAITI.” Cuny School of Law: Public Square , 2013, www1.cuny.edu/mu/law/2013/12/16/strengthening-womens-rights-in-haiti/.
Urrutia, Rachel Peragallo, et al. “Unmet Health Needs Identified by Haitian Women as Priorities for Attention: a Qualitative Study.” Reproductive Health Matters, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3697112/
Carri Patterson Grindon. “Re: Microcredit Questions.” Received by Bannon Jones, 15 Feb. 2018.