fall 2004
table of contents
Letter from the Editor
Articles Online

Scandal Patrol
Daughters Helping Working Mothers
Republican Women for Choice
Pregnant Women Murdered
San Francisco Women's Building
Sisters Who Sip


Haitians Fight Despair
Matenwa's Artists
Women with AIDS
Spanish Women in Charge
Gandhi Power
Afghan Women's Vote
Networking Corner

Cover Story
It's the Women, Stupid | Ellen Hawkes
Why the Gender Gap Matters | Eleanor Smeal
Fighting Words for a Secular America | Robin Morgan

More Features

The Unreal World | Jennifer Pozner
Virgin Territory | Camille Hahn
A Family Affair | Gillian Kane
Liv Ullmann: A Ms. Conversation | Robert Emmet Long
Liberating Mary | Bob Lamm


Where's That Smoking Gun? Sex discrimination is getting harder to prove | Pamela Haag

The Breast Cancer Divide: Why the disease kills so many African Americans | Michelle L. Smith, M.D.

A Feast of Feminist Art
"The Dinner Party" finds a home in Brooklyn | Carey Lovelace

Jamesey, Jamesey | Ursula Hegi
Intersection | Roxana Robinson

God Says Yes To Me | Kaylin Haught
| Donna Masini

Touching History
Encounters with women of renown: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Hillary Clinton and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

Book Reviews
Bob Bledsoe on The Finishing School by Murial Sparks; Valerie Miner on The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates; Samantha Dunn on The Doctor's Wife by Elizabeth Brundage; Carey Lovelace on Full Bloom: The
Art and Life of Georgia O'Keefe
by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
; Patricia Cohen on Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

Plus: Fall Must-Read List

Save the Courts | Donna Brazile

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GLOBAL NEWS | fall 2004

One Woman at a Time
Despite poverty and unrest, Haitians fight despair

Many Haitian female merchants earn less than a dollar a day / Rodrigo ABD/AP Photo

Ercia Guillaume is lucky. A maid for a Haitian businessman in the city of Les Cayes, she enjoys “luxuries” few Haitians encounter: daily food, a steady income, 24-hour electricity (via her employer’s generator), a safe place to sleep. She has also been spared the brutal act women have faced throughout Haiti’s history of turmoil: rape.

Such basics are a far cry from the experience of most women and girls in this impoverished nation of nearly 8 million people, especially in the wake of political strife earlier this year (ironically, Haiti’s bicentennial).

The chaotic days preceding and following former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster on February 29 fostered bloody revolts and urban rioting. Hundreds of women and girls became victims of sexual violence — a common occurrence rence when political unrest explodes in this Caribbean nation, according to Haitian human-rights groups and feminist organizations.

“A lot of women were violated,” Pierre Esperance, director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, acknowledged last spring.

Today, Esperance says that sexual violence against women — or, more specifically, politically motivated sexual violence — is nonexistent: “The [new] government will not condone violence against women.”

Nevertheless, lack of security is still a huge problem. Despite the presence of international troops, armed thugs outnumber police in many parts of this mountainous nation.

“We need for the insecurity to end,” says Guillaume.

While lack of security remains a major issue, so does Haiti’s dire economic situation. Not much has changed economically since March, when a U.S.-backed government was installed to replace Aristide and put the country back on the path to democratic elections.

“Haiti has nothing,” says Guillaume, a shy young woman who speaks in short whispers.

Nowhere is the everyday struggle of Haitians more apparent than in the mache, local markets that can stretch for miles.

Here is where the madansara — the merchant woman — does business selling anything she can: a cup of rice, bars of soap, used rags. With many women competing to sell the same items, a madansara can earn less than $1 U.S. a day — the average amount on which most Haitians survive.

The economic struggle women face affects the entire society. With parents unable to pay for schooling, many girls turn to prostitution; scantily clad female children are now a common sight, working streets in the formerly upscale neighborhood of Petionville.

The practice of de facto child slavery is increasing: poor families, unable to feed or educate their children, often send them to “reste avec” (stay with) better-off families, working as a domestic servant called a “restavék.”

The statistics are deeply disturbing. The average life expectancy for a Haitian woman is 50 years. She earns considerably less than her poorest male counterpart, though over 60 percent of households here are female-headed.

Haitian women rank lowest in the U.N. Development Programme’s Western Hemisphere gender index: lowest in maternal mortality, contraceptive use, teen-marriage incidence, primary-school enrollment.

Myriam Merlet, director of the Centre National et International de Documentation et d’Information des Femmes en Haiti (ENFOFANM), says that disregard for women’s rights has long been a problem in Haitian society.

She and other women are trying to change attitudes as well as ease the crisis. [See Ms., Winter 2003/2004, highlighting the work of Haitian health pioneer Loune Viaud.] Danielle Saint Lot, Haiti’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, believes the answer for improving women’s lives lies with education and job creation.

“If you educate them, they will educate their children differently,” she says. “When you offer someone the possibility to work and make money, people will be able to feel hope.’’

Shortly after taking office, Saint Lot helped organize a fair where scores of women from both formal and informal sectors displayed their talents and sold their wares.

The event demonstrated Haiti’s potential, so Saint Lot wants to make it an international affair, inviting prospective investors and vendors from neighboring islands. In that way, she hopes to replace despair with hope — one woman at a time.

Also in this issue, Edwidge Danticat reports on the women artists of Matènwa, who are painting scarves for sale in the United States.
More information on the status of women in Haiti can be found at WomenWarPeace.org.

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