Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Amidst the rubble, Haiti celebrates International Women’s Day

By Jennifer Bakody, UNICEF
March 9th, 2010


© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Bakody
Myrline Antoine, an outreach officer for the Haitian women’s rights organization Famn Deside (Women Decide), discusses last-minute preparations for events commemorating International Women’s Day in Jacmel.

JACMEL, Haiti, 9 March, 2010 – Women have been hit hard by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January. But they are not alone.

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday, Haitian authorities and leaders from the international community reiterated their support for the women of this quake-scarred country.

Haiti’s Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights marked the day by honouring the tens of thousands of mothers, sisters, wives and activists who lost their lives in the disaster.

‘Women are engines of development’
On Sunday, 7 March, at least 500 supporters – many of them the members of small women’s collectives from neighbouring communities – took to the narrow streets of the southern port city of Jacmel as part of a public march organized by Famn Deside (Women Decide), a locally based organization with a 20-year history of promoting women’s health and human rights.

Marie-Ange Noel, coordinator of Famn Deside, walked with a cardboard sign that read: ‘100 years we’ve been working to give the women’s movement strength.’ She noted that the devastation wrought by the earthquake will test the strength of Haitian women and girls as never before.

“Women are engines of development in this country,” said Ms. Noel. “They form a majority in many key sectors – in business, at the markets, as teachers and as health professionals.”

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Bakody
Sunday is no day of rest for two women carrying goods through the ruined and dusty streets of Jacmel. Throughout Haiti, this year’s International Women’s Day underscored the vital role that women will play in the country’s reconstruction.

Pause for reflection
In addition to the march, Famn Deside organized what it called a ‘pause for reflection.’ One by one, participants who had gathered in a local hall offered testimony about their lives, losses and struggles following the earthquake. They shared messages of hope, as well as their ideas on advancing women’s rights.

UNICEF is working with Famn Deside to distribute emergency supplies for women and children in Jacmel, including cooking and hygiene kits, and tarpaulins for shelter. Along with its partners, UNICEF is also advocating for women’s and girls’ rights through improved access to health care, psycho-social counselling and legal assistance in cases of rape and sexual assault.

“Supporting the women’s movement in Haiti is essential to sustainable development,” said UNICEF Gender-Based Violence Specialist Catherine Maternowska. “By doing this, UNICEF provides the funds needed to build strong gender-based violence prevention and treatment programmes.”

Providing support to women in the quake’s aftermath gives a voice to more than a 100 years of social movement-building, she added, “but also to the girls and women of Haiti who are left to rebuild this shattered country.”

The government, the UN family and its partners, including many grassroots women’s organizations, have also honoured the longstanding work of three prominent Haitian feminists – Anne-Marie Coriolan, Magalie Marcelin and Myriam Merlet – all of whom died in the earthquake.

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