January 27, 2013
JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Marie Josie Joseph, 41, says that Haitian women live as if life is supposed to be hard.
“Barriers are being set up for them everywhere,” says Joseph, a nurse in a clinic in Baryadel, a town in Haiti’s Grand’Anse department.
One barrier is sexual exploitation.
“The first job I had, I was asked to do everything,” she says. “But every time it was payday, my supervisor pressured me to sleep with him. I had two kids to support. I did not have a choice.”
A woman must be willing to sleep with her supervisor if she wants to get a job in Haiti, she says.
“I know not every woman will admit that,” she says. “But women are victims in all sectors of society in Haiti.”
Joseph says she wants justice for women so that they can be free. She does not want the next generation of women to endure the abuse that she has.
Women in Haiti say that gender-based abuse is ingrained in them from a young age. Men and women agree that this needs to change in order to achieve national development. Women say that their economic empowerment is crucial to this shift. One government ministry is promoting women’s rights outside the capital, with women calling for more local organizations to advocate for their equality in their communities.
Therese Pacaud, a field agent for the Ministère à la Condition Féminine et aux Droits des Femmes, the Haitian ministry that focuses on women, declined to provide statistics on how many cases of abuse or injustice it receives.
But she says that many incidents of injustice against women still exist today, especially sexual violence, physical abuse and social mistreatment.
Women say that abuse against them is the norm.
Dukens Dorismond, who works as a vendor in Baryadel, says that men think it is OK to mistreat women.
“They act as if that is their right,” she says.
She shares the story of her neighbor, Mona, whose husband hit her so severely when she was pregnant that she went into early labor.
“That didn’t bother anybody because it was her husband who did it,” Dorismond says.
Pacaud says she witnesses various types of violence against women as a field agent in Jérémie, the capital of the Grand’Anse.
“Often, we encounter cases of sexual violence, but also many instances of physical and social abuse,” she says.
Many women in Jérémie live inhumane lives, she says. They believe they are supposed to suffer, so they do not even talk about it.
This starts at a young age, she says. When growing up in their families, little girls accept that they are inferior.
“They have the same experience in the schools, and even more so in society at large,” she says. “They suffer sexual abuse, and intellectually, they are being limited.”
This continues into adulthood.
“They work as vendors, take care of the house and the children,” Pacaud says. “But the man will always dominate them simply because he is a guy. That automatically makes him the boss.”
But young educated men say that this needs to change.
“Women are people, just like men,” says Benic Pierre, 28, a student at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse.
The change in the treatment of women begins in the home from a young age, he says.
“It is the parents who need to change above all,” Pierre says. “Little girls need to learn already in their homes that they are people just like everybody else, so that society cannot do with them whatever it wants.”
Parents need to make sure their daughters receive an education, he says. The girls and women who aren’t educated suffer the most.
Hebreux Francois, 23, a student of agriculture at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse, says that educating girls is crucial to national development.
“A society that does not recognize the importance of women, that deprives them of education, will not be able to develop,” he says, “because it ignores half the human resources in the country.”
Francois says that this societal shift begins with the Ministère à la Condition Féminine et aux Droits des Femmes.
“The Ministère à la Condition Féminine and women’s organizations should see as part of the solution to educate women around their rights,” Francois says, “to make them more conscious that they deserve to live better and to let the families know that little girls deserve an education.”
Women are an important part of society, he says.
“Women are very special,” he says. “I will only marry a well-educated woman.”
Society needs to recognize women’s value, says Charles Chery, a security guard for the Grand’Anse branch of the Ministère des Affaires Sociales et du Travail, which covers social services and labor.
“Women will be given respect when society recognizes their value and importance for all sectors of society,” Chery says.
Noemy Duvery, a young man studying nursing in Jérémie, says women in Haiti should have the same respect that they receive in other countries.
“In all societies that are developed, women have a place of importance,” Duvery says. “There is no reason why women should still suffer so in Haiti.”
Women say their economic empowerment plays a key role in changing this.
Women will suffer as along as they depend on men to support them, says Alicia Dorlice, a farmer from Baryadel.
“My husband used to attack me and hit me with a bat because he thought he had a right to,” she says, “because he was the one making money.”
Dorlice found work as a cook in a public school in Baryadel.
“Thanks to the job I have now, that stopped,” she says. “Now when he wants to come at me, I just leave.”
The Ministère à la Condition Féminine et aux Droits des Femmes is the main organization that promotes the respect of women and battles gender-based violence in Jérémie.
Remana Ladaillade, an agronomy student at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse, says that the Jérémie branch of the women’s ministry does a lot of work. It operates in the city as well as in the countryside. But some of their employees are incompetent and have no credibility, she says.
Christele Toussain, a 22-year-old a researcher for The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of Christian churches, says that the ministry works well. It airs spots on the radio regarding the importance of women and advises them on their rights and responsibilities. It defends women against injustice and provides continuing education to them.
“The [ministry] in Jérémie will defend the rights of women,” Toussain says. “It is thanks to the work of the ministry that women in Jérémie can breathe a little easier regarding discrimination and physical and sexual violence.”
Pacaud says that as a field agent for the ministry, she educates women who belong to an organization called Fanm Lakay, which translates to Women From Home in Haitian Creole, which helps women to recognize their rights and responsibilities.
“We take care of the women, have them see a doctor and a psychologist,” she says, “and we accompany them when they go to court.”
But most of the other organizations that promote women’s rights are in Port-au-Prince, the capital, including Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, or the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, which offers support to underprivileged women who have experienced of rape and sexual assault.
Mothers’ clubs or women’s groups, many associated with the churches, in the regions outside the capital sometimes tackle these issues locally.
Women need to come together to denounce injustice and abuse in order to change the condition of women in younger generations, Pacaud says.
“Society and all its institutions and families also,” she says, “need to value women, understand their importance, help them and educate them.”