HAITI: Women In Haiti See New Opportunities Post-Earthquake

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The Huffington Post
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Prior to the January 12 earthquake, almost half of the households in Haiti were exclusively matriarchal, at least in terms of management. Though accustomed to taking care of families and a myriad of domestic and economic responsibilities, Haitian women still comprise only a very small portion of their own government. Femmes en Democratie, an organization supporting 50 female congressional candidates in Haiti, argues that women should not only play a more central role in government, but also that they are, in fact, the key factor to any successful rebuilding process.

Danielle Saint-Lot, the former minister of commerce, major leader in 'Femmes en Democratie' and the first female member of Haitian government, believes that Haiti's women can follow in the political footsteps of women in places like Rwanda and Liberia -- her goal is to win at least 20 seats for women in Congress and then focus on using newfound political clout to decentralize Port-au-Prince.

In an interview with NPR, she talks about needing to relocate communities first to properly rebuild Haiti's economy around women in education and business. She sees the earthquake as an "opportunity for Haiti renaissance," one in which class and gender are no longer hindrances to action.

Though the political future of Haiti's women is still in its fledgling stages, the havoc wreaked by the the earthquake has already opened up new economic possibilities for them, particularly in jobs recently held by men. The Centre National des Equipments (CNE) is responsible for the government's road-building and heavy construction needs, and has purposely hired mostly female employees. CNE's founder, Jude Celestin, says that's because he can depend more on women in reconstruction and rubble-clearing efforts than on men.

Women may currently lack the power in Haiti that they deserve, but women in businesses like CNE find their salaries often exceeding their partners' -- one employee even tells new recruits that they will likely leave their husbands while working at CNE because the disparity in earnings places a strain on the conservative structure of many Haitian marriages.

Political and economic struggles aside, the biggest challenge Haitian women still face is the violence and abuse of both the pre- and post-earthquake society. The Ms. Foundation for Women, however, believes there's hope even there:

Despite the real dangers they face, the women of Haiti are fighting back, organizing to protect their own safety: they are distributing rape whistles in the camps, and setting up committees to address the needs of women when no one else will. They are standing in where pre-existing services (like rape crisis centers) have been destroyed. And they are finding ways to lift themselves and their families out of poverty by training for non-traditional jobs in industries like construction, which are slowly opening up to women workers.