Last month, Jasmine Huggins of Church World Service interviewed Marie Frantz Joachim of Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) and Pierre Esperance of National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) to discuss the challenges facing women in Haiti and the elections. Below you will find the complete interview conducted in Haitian Creole but with a brief summary of the issues discussed.
The Work of SOFA
Marie Frantz began her interview by talking about the work of SOFA. She says that SOFA addresses four main areas- women’s political participation, sexual and reproductive rights, the feminization of poverty and violence against women. SOFA works to build solidarity by providing support measures for women and girls who are victims of violence. This includes helping victims seek legal redress for the violence committed against them as well as supporting them at the social and psychological level so that they are not alone.
The Importance of Women’s Political Participation
In the next portion of the interview, Marie Frantz discusses the electoral process and the importance of women’s political participation. She says that women represent 52 percent of the population but there are no female lawmakers in Haiti’s current Parliament. In fact, there is a legal measure calling for a 30 percent electoral gender quota; however, there are many challenges to achieving this benchmark. Both men and women are responsible for the continuation of social norms and prescribed gender roles that keep women in the house. To change these dynamics, Marie Frantz says that there needs to be models of successful female politicians so that women gain confidence in themselves. She also says that change needs to occur within political parties and the electoral system so that women are valued and supported. “If we don’t have an electoral system that can guarantee fair elections, then it will be very difficult for women to be present and represented in institutions like Parliament.”
The Economic Crisis, Drought and Its Impact on Women
The next question that Marie Frantz addressed was the economic crisis, drought and its impact on women. She drew connections between the economic crisis- most notably inflation- and its impact on agricultural production. Currently, the Haitian gourdes is at 60-65 to the dollar, up from 40-45 gourdes back in 2011. This is major strain on local farmers who are unable to purchase fertilizer and seed to produce their goods. The issue is further exacerbated as Haiti is an importing country. Major corporations like Monsanto, which is an American food corporation supported by the US government, has a monopoly on the market for fertilizer and seed. With increased prices, farmers- many of whom are women- lack access to these basic necessities for food production. Moreover, Marie Frantz says that female farmers who may have reserves, use the extra they have to feed their families during drought. The result is decreased levels of production, aggravating Haiti’s current crisis with food insecurity.
“Currently, 3 million people are food insecure. If the drought continues and the government does not create measures to increase access to seed and fertilizer, then in six months the number of people facing food insecurity can double” says Marie Frantz.
However, she believes that the crisis can be resolved with the help of the diaspora community. She says that if Haitians abroad invest their money in agriculture, then this could help production as well as job creation. Frantz says that agriculture employs more people in Haiti however, the Martelly administration focused investments on Caracol, which did not spark job creation as people thought. Thus, supporting the agricultural sector is a viable solution to addressing food insecurity and supporting job growth in Haiti.
International Women’s Day: Steps to Achieving Gender Parity in Haiti
In the final portion of the interview, Marie Frantz talked about International Women’s Day and steps Haiti could to take to achieve gender parity. For one, she believes that establishing a national gender equality law would help address economic and social disparities and promote progressive changes such as equal pay for equal work and the use of positive images of women in the media. She also says that the Ministry of Women needs to be supported because they are the governmental body that can address the plight of women. However, they are the most underfunded and vulnerable department because in cases where there is a change in administration or there is a budget crisis, this ministry is the first to be cut.
Marie Frantz also mentioned that there needs to be change at the societal level. For example, in cases where young girls become pregnant, they are forced to end their education because schools will not accept them. Contrastingly, the boys who impregnate them are able to continue. Thus, Marie Frantz believes that Haitian society has to stop sanctioning girls for being in such conditions. This will help empower women and girls and achieve gender parity.
Status Update on Elections in Haiti as of March 3, 2016
Pierre began his interview by giving an update on the elections. He said that as of March 3, 2016, the electoral process is at an impasse because of 1) the violence, irregularities and fraud of the 2015 elections, and 2) loss of confidence in the CEP. However, the government has made an accord which established a provisional President and Parliament. Cabinet members have yet to be selected as well as members of the new CEP.
Pierre also stated that 2016 will be another election year for the President and the Parliament which has an incomplete Senate and Chamber of Deputies. However, he warned people not to believe the international community which says that elections can be done in four months. Pierre believes that at a minimum, it will take six months to conduct acceptable elections with a verification process which is being demanded by all political actors, observers, and organizations working on elections accept the Tet Kale party. “If elections are rushed,” Pierre says, “Haiti will enter deeper into crisis.”
Therefore, in the final segments of his interview, Pierre urged the State Department and international community to support Haitians by not pushing for quick elections. Otherwise, the Haitian people will be forced to accept the unacceptable.