Webinar With The Next Generation of Haitian Women Lawyers

BAI Hosts Webinar With the Next Generation of Women Human Rights Lawyers

Want a reason to be hopeful about Haiti?  WE HAVE FOUR FOR YOU. Four women law graduates (finissantes) in the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s (BAI) legal training program supporting students from marginalized backgrounds completed their theses in the summer of 2023 – a significant hurdle on the path to becoming a qualified lawyer in Haiti. On August 17, BAI and IJDH gathered with attendees from across the world to get some inspiration from these exceptional women for how to keep advancing the fight for advancing human rights in Haiti. The finissantes discussed their research – all on social-justice topics – and their vision for a Haiti in which women are empowered to lead and contribute fully and equally, both in law and in other spheres of Haitian life. 

Watch the Recording of the Webinar (English and Haitian Creole) HERE
Passcode: 9=#6qZuK

Read more about the event in blog post with the 
Boston Network for International Development

Haiti’s justice system has, for centuries, excluded women and people from modest backgrounds who might use the law to challenge the unjust structures that keep women marginalized and most Haitians poor. Twelve years ago, the BAI could not find a single woman lawyer to staff its Rape Accountability and Prevention Project (RAPP). Today, three experienced women lawyers run RAPP. One of them – Abigail Derolian, herself a former finissante – moderated the webinar. Me Derolian discussed the barriers to women’s equality in Haiti and the human rights challenges facing women in Haiti. Becoming a lawyer in Haiti is difficult, explained Me Derolian. On top of the academic and professional requirements, “a woman that wants to become a lawyer in Haiti. . . . has to deconstruct the stigmatization of the profession of lawyer [as a man’s job].”

“BAI helps . . . women navigate through this system” to enter the legal profession,” added fellow former finissante Fabiola Félix in her concluding remarks. And these are the women who now lead the fight for human rights in Haiti. “[W]e appeal in the courts for [victims]. . . . The state, the Government . . . should guarantee this work; they should put in place mechanisms,” but they do not. “[A]nd it is our duty as lawyers to put pressure on that system so rights are respected in order for the whole population to benefit from it. . . . and we are going to continue to fight in order for human rights in Haiti to be respected.”

Finissantes Marie Christelle César, Sancarah Merveille, Wesfarly Germain, and Dina Cajuste presented their research on critical human rights issues. Me César spoke about the government’s abandonment of Martissant, one of the areas hardest hit by Haiti’s insecurity and humanitarian crises. Me Merveille shared her findings on the right to civil identity – a gateway to other fundamental rights – and access to civil registration in rural Haiti. Me Germain’s work focused on the government’s failure to safeguard the right to education in Haiti, which disproportionately affects girls. Me Cajuste spoke about the dire condition of Port-au-Prince’s healthcare system and the impacts on residents, especially women and girls. 

A central theme in the discussion concerned how these women are breaking down gender inequality in Haiti’s society, which keeps women from many public roles and exposes them to violence; and dismantling the more specific systemic barriers to women’s engagement in the legal profession. “We in BAI – the women that are defending the rights of women and girls that are victims of rape or conjugal violence – are faced everyday with cynicism and sexism from men in the system,” observed Me Derolian. She added: “[T]he fight that is being done along with BAI for women and young girls that are victims of violence – it shows how important it is for us not to stop . . . in spite of all the barriers. . . . It is a pillar for us to continue to fight.” These advocates persist and prevail not only in directly supporting women and girls confronted with human rights violations, but also in breaking down unequal and oppressive systems. 

There is much cause for despair in Haiti today. But the BAI’s legal training program, designed to cultivate the next generation of human rights lawyers and to break down barriers in the legal profession, is one of many examples of Haitians constructing a foundation for a more stable, equitable, and prosperous country. All six of the participants came through BAI’s legal training program, which supports individuals from marginalized backgrounds in their path to become lawyers. “I knew that I had to push forward and go further, but in order to do so, I have to be in a position where I can actually take the steps that I wanted to do,” said Me César. BAI offered her the support she needed to take those steps, as it is doing for so many others through both community education and support for individual advocates.

The finissantes completed their theses under exceptionally difficult conditions – gun violence and lockdowns prevented all four women from coming to work on many occasions and almost kept one from joining the webinar. Their accomplishment is the result of astounding personal perseverance, as well as the perseverance of their BAI colleagues. These women are now poised to advance human rights for decades. 

You can help the finissantes and the rest of the BAI team continue that fight. Men anpil, chay pa lou – many hands lighten the load. We hope you will consider lending a hand to support the critical work of the finissantes and to help the BAI continue fighting for the rights of women, girls, and all Haitians.

We are grateful to Respond Crisis Translation, an important IJDH partner in our efforts to promote language justice, who supported simultaneous interpretation between Haitian Creole and English, for their commitment to language justice and supporting accessibility for critical publications and important events like this one.