HAWG’s 2017 International Women’s Day (IWD) Celebration
Elaine Zuckerman, Gender Action, March 27, 2017

The Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) celebrated 2017’s International Women’s Day (IWD) by inviting two Haitian women’s rights defenders to make presentations at meetings in Washington DC.  Doing so aligns with HAWG’s practice to bring Haitian voices to DC policymakers and donors.

HAWG member Gender Action led the organizing.  Human Rights Watch hosted the panel discussion.  Other meetings were held in the US Congress.

Haitian Women’s Rights Activists
HAWG’s 2017 IWD guests were Nadia Lafleur and Sabine Lamour who deserve their surnames denoting flowers and love respectively!

Nadia has worked with Haiti’s women’s rights organization, Fanm Deside, based in Jacmel, since 2004.  She directs Fanm Deside’s shelter that provides housing and healing services to battered women and girls traumatized by gender-based violence (GBV).

Sabine, a member of SOFA (Haitian Women’s Solidarity) and a professor at the University of Haiti, focuses on gender and colonization, the intersectionality of gender with class and other discriminations, the status of women in Haiti’s reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake, and Haitian female migration.

The panel conference room was filled with civil society members and officials from the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID, the two largest donors to Haiti, and other government agencies.

Nadia described Haiti’s ubiquitous violence against women.  She emphasized that Haitians almost never discuss GBV.  It is invisible, widespread and conducted with impunity.  Obtaining justice is virtually impossible.  Nadia discussed how common it is for men to beat their wives who are victims of rape by other men.  Fanm Deside’s shelter provides psycho-social help to all these types of GBV victims.  Fanm Deside also raises awareness on how Haitian men rarely take responsibility as fathers.  The organization also works to change Haiti’s laws that criminalize abortion as illegal.

Sabine focused on women’s lack of participation in politics.  She provided a fascinating historical perspective: Haitian women have been disincentivized from participating in politics ever since they played an active role in Haiti’s slave revolt over two hundred years ago.  Women were banned from politics from the time that Haiti achieved independence in 1804 until the Duvalier dynasty fell in 1986.  Although Haiti subsequently endorsed a 30% quota for women in political positions this principle has been ignored.  Women who run for political positions face threats and abuse.  And a SOFA study demonstrated that women politicians become poorer while male politicians become richer.  Additionally Sabine criticized how foreign governments and civil society groups usually bring their own agendas to Haiti without embracing Haitian women’s needs.

Amanda Klasing of HRW reported that Haiti ratified CEDAW but hardly implements it.  HRW’s recent submission to CEDAW on Haiti revealed that Haiti’s 2005 decree establishing rape as a crime is not implemented.

Finally, Amy Van Zanen and Elaine Zuckerman of Gender Action presented a rights-based gender analysis of IDB and World Bank investments in Haiti from 2013 to 2016.  This analysis updates Gender Actions 2010-13 report, Building Back by Half? Gender Issues in IFI Investments in Post-Earthquake HaitiWhile we found that both IDB and World Bank investments in Haiti still rarely embrace a women’s/human rights approach, the World Bank gender analysis is strengthening while the IDB’s shows slower progress.

These panel presentations were followed by a lively dialogue between the speakers and participants.

Meetings in Congress
HAWG also organized meetings in Congress for Nadia and Sabine in the offices of Congresswomen Mia Love (R UT), Maxine Waters (D CA) and Frederica Wilson (D FL), all of whom have a strong interest in Haiti.  Love is Haitian-American.  Nadia and Sabine not only raised the issues they presented in the above panel, but also discussed the status of restaveks, poor Haitian children whose parents send them to live with better-off families expecting educational and other opportunities for their kids.  However, the predominant restavek reality is exploitative servitude.

Follow Up
HAWG will continue to advocate for the rights of women in Haiti.

Elaine Zuckerman is Founder and President of Gender Action