Women in Haiti

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Women in Haiti
Haitian Elegance (8222064720).jpg
A Haitian woman
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.599 (2013)
Rank132nd out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)350 (2010)
Women in parliament3.5% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education22.5% (2012)
Women in labour force60.6% (2012)

Women in Haiti have equal constitutional[2] rights as men in the economic, political, cultural and social fields, as well as in the family.

However, the reality in Haiti is quite far from the law: "political, economic and social features of Haiti negatively affect most Haitians, but Haitian women experience additional barriers to the full enjoyment of their basic rights due to predominant social beliefs that they are inferior to men and a historical pattern of discrimination and violence against them based on their sex. Discrimination against women is a structural feature in Haitian society and culture that has subsisted throughout its history, both in times of peace and unrest."[3]

Women and society[edit]

Some Haitian scholars argue that Haitian peasant women are often less restricted socially than women in Western societies or even in comparison to more westernized elite Haitian women.[4] They attribute this fact to the influence of African matriarcal systems and of the Haitian Vodou religion which places women at the center of society contrary to purely Judeo-Christian systems.[5] Women priests (named mambos) play equal roles to male priests or Houngan in Haitian vodou.[4]

The sexual equality inherent to Haitian vodou translates into the inclusion of women in all aspects of society.[6] Peasant women specifically, because of their proximity to vodou, have traditionally played a crucial role in Haitian life.[7] Compared to their Latin-American counterparts, the participation of Haitian women in agriculture, commerce and industry has been high.[7] During the US occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) peasant women actively participated in guerilla warfare and anti-US intelligence gathering to free the country.[6] Because of their involvement in commerce, Haitian peasant women have accumulated resources independent of their mates in contrast to more westernized elite Haitian women.[8]

Political representation[edit]

Michele Pierre-Louis, former Prime Minister has proven a fervent promoter of women's rights in Haiti

The Haitian government contains a Ministry of Women's Affairs, but it also lacks the resources to address issues such as violence against women and harassment in the workplace. A number of political figures such as Michele Pierre-Louis, Haiti's second female Prime Minister, have adopted a determined agenda in order to fight inequalities and persecutions against women. Her position in office as Prime Minister has had positive effect on female political leadership in a country where the percentage of women in government at ministerial level was 25% in 2005.[9]

History of the Haitian women's movement[edit]

Women have been involved in social movements in Haiti since the battle for independence even if History does not recall their names[10] [11].

A women's movement emerged in Haiti in the 1930s during an economic crisis which is thought to have forced some middle-class Haitian women to work outside the home for the first time unlike peasant women who had always done so.[4] This was also a time at which more elite women began to pursue post-secondary education and when L'Université D'Etat d'Haiti opened its doors to women.[4] The first Haitian woman to receive a secondary education graduated during this period in 1933.[4]

One of the first established feminist organizations in Haiti was called the Ligue Féminine d'Action Sociale (Feminine League for Social Action) and was created in 1934.[12] Its mostly elite initial members included: Madeleine Sylvain, Alice Garoute, Fernande Bellegarde, Thérèse Hudicourt, Alice Mathon, Marie-Thérèse Colimon, Marie-Thérèse Poitevien.[13] The Ligue was banned by the government two months after its founding.[13] The league was reestablished when it agreed to study its goals instead of immediately implementing them.[13] The league is credited for the granting of voting rights for women in 1957.[13]

In 1950, writer and feminist Paulette Poujol-Oriol joined the league. She later served as President of the League from 1997 until her death on March 11, 2011. She was also a founding member of L'Alliance des Femmes Haitiennes, an umbrella organization for more than 50 women's groups.[14]

Some women were appointed to government leadership positions under François Duvalier: Rosalie Adolphe (aka Madame Max Adolphe) was appointed head of the secret police (Volontaires de La Sécurité Nationale or VSN) while Lydia O. Jeanty was named Under-Secretary of Labor in 1957 and Lucienne Heurtelou, the widow of former President Dumarsais Estimé, was Haiti's first female ambassador.[citation needed] Marie-Denise Duvalier nearly succeeded her father in 1971.[4]

Sexual violence[edit]

Women in Haiti may suffer threats to their security and well-being because of rape, kidnapping and human trafficking. Women suffer the most from Haiti's chronic political instability.

Documented cases of politically motivated rape, massacres, forced disappearance, and violent assaults on entire neighborhoods increased greatly at the end of 1993 under the military dictatorship of Raoul Cédras. Reports from women's rights groups in Haiti revealed that women were targeted for abuse in ways and for reasons that men were not. Uniformed military personnel and their civilian allies threatened and attacked women's organizations for their work in defense of women's rights and subjected women to sex-specific abuse ranging from bludgeoning women's breasts to rape.[15]

The troubles before the 2004 coup were seen by most of the nationwide women's group as a reminder of the 1991–94 coup d'etat tactics with the use of rape, kidnapping and murders as forms of intimidation. If most of the feminist activists in Haiti campaigned for the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide before his first term (1991–1995), many of them, especially intellectuals like Myriam Merlet or Magalie Marcelin, condemned how the first democratically elected president of Haiti ruled the country during his second term (2000–2004).[16] Other observers, more favorable of the Fanmi Lavalas party, were more incline to criticised the period after the coup as a "rewind" back to the same dictatorship tactics, "a terror campaign employing rape, murder and disappearance as tactics, and rapidly increasing insecurity undermining all economic activity of the informal sector."[17]

To this day, Haiti is "gripped by shocking levels of sexual violence against girls"; of particular concern is the number of cases of sexual violence reported in the run-up to or during Carnival.[18]

Amnesty International[19] and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights[3] have laid particular pressure on the duty of the state to act in due diligence necessary to prevent and eradicate violence and discrimination against women.

Though the MINUSTAH has come with a peace-keeping mandate, a number of cases have arisen where the UN soldiers were found to have abused women.[20]


Women in Haiti do not benefit from an equal access to education. The rural-urban difference is also considerable as nearly 25% of the women in urban areas have finished secondary school, compared with less than 2 percent in rural areas. Though most Latin American countries have achieved universal or near universal primary education for all children, for Haiti primary education, the enrollment rate of boys was still somewhat higher than that of girls in 1987, but it is narrowing as the average growth enrollment has been significantly greater for girls than for boys.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Haiti, Title III: "Art. 17: All Haitians, regardless of sex or marital status, who have attained twenty-one years of age may exercise their political and civil rights if they meet the other conditions prescribed by the Constitution and by the law. Art. 18: Haitians shall be equal before the law, subject to the special advantages conferred on native-born Haitians who have never renounced their nationality."
  3. ^ a b Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on "The Right of Women in Haiti to be Free from Violence and Discrimination." OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 64, 10 March 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 38. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  5. ^ Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 37. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  6. ^ a b Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 41. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  7. ^ a b Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 40. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  8. ^ Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 44. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  9. ^ UNDP 2007/2008 Human Development Report, Haiti Factsheet
  10. ^ Bell, Beverly. Walking on fire : Haitian women's stories of survival and resistance. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8014-8748-4.
  11. ^ Charles, Carolle (1995). "Gender and politics in contemporary Haiti". Feminist Studies. 21: 146.
  12. ^ Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  13. ^ a b c d Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick (2004). Haiti: The Breached Citadel (2nd ed.). Ontario: Canadian Scholars Press. p. 39. ISBN 1-55130-268-3.
  14. ^ Ulysse, Gina Athéna. "The Legacy of Haitian Feminist Paulette Poujol-Oriol". Ms. Magazine Blog. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  15. ^ Rape in Haiti: A Weapon of Terror, Human Rights Watch (HRW), 1 July 1994
  16. ^ Myriam Merlet (2 February 2004). "Forces vives d'Haiti décrétent le Gouvernement Lavalas hors la loi". ENFOFANM.
  17. ^ "Rewinding History: The Rights of Haitian Women" 2005 Report of the Let Haiti Live Women's Rights Delegation sponsored by the Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA), January 2005. Obtained June 3rd 2009
  18. ^ Amnesty International, Press Release, Embargoed Until Noon, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. Obtained June 3, 2009
  19. ^ Amnesty International launched a grass-roots campaign to send postcards to the Prime Minister of Haiti to remind her of her duty to protect Haitian women. The text of the letter was such: "Dear Prime Minister: I am writing to you to express my deep concern at the levels of sexual violence perpetrated against girls in Haiti, particularly during the carnival period. While the true extent of sexual violence against girls is not known, every year, in Port-au-Prince alone, dozens of girls report being raped at gunpoint by groups of young men. I therefore urge you and your government to implement all necessary measures to prevent rape and protect girls' right to live free from violence, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that the victims receive adequate support and reparation. Yours respectfully,"
  20. ^ "108 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti to be repatriated after claims they paid prostitutes". International Herald Tribune. 2007-11-02.
  21. ^ Women's Education in Developing Countries: Barriers, Benefits, and Policies, pp.183–184. By Elizabeth M. King, M. Anne Hill. Published by World Bank Publications, 1998. ISBN 0-8018-5828-3


  • Haiti Rapes, Lyn Duff, Pacific News Service, Haiti Action Net, 10 March 2005
  • Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance, Beverly Bell. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001
  • Gender and Politics in Contemporary Haiti: The Duvalierist State, Transnationalism, and the Emergence of a New Feminism (1980–1990), Carolle Charles. Feminist Studies. 1995
  • Challenging Violence: Haitian Women Unite Women's Rights and Human Rights, Anne Fuller, Association of Concerned African Scholars. Spring/Summer 1999

External links[edit]