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Opinion: Why Women Are Key to Haiti’s Recovery

By:  Danielle Saint-Lot Jan 11, 2013
Danielle

Three years after the devastating earthquake, Haitian women are not only back on our feet, we are working to create a country of peace, justice, and social and economic opportunity for all.

2012 was productive in many ways. To rekindle hope in Haiti’s future, a coalition of key organizations and female leaders from every part of the country — including every economic status and every background — came together to draft a document called the “‘Haitian Women’s Policy Platform for the Reconstruction of Haiti.”

This platform is a blueprint for taking action to address the needs of women and girls in our communities. It is based on input from 315 focus groups with more than 3,200 women and men living in rural and urban communities, from all walks of life and income levels. What came to light while creating this platform is the importance of women in building a brighter future for all Haitians.

Investing in Haitian women and ensuring their full economic, political and social participation will contribute to building a stronger, more stable society. This stronger foundation will help garner increased investment and clear a path to sustainable growth.

The Women’s Policy Platform is a call to action directed toward the Haitian government and parliament, multinational corporations and the international development community. We believe the country’s political, economic and social institutions must be restructured to fully include women’s participation at all levels.

The platform speaks to the need for economic and educational opportunities, access to health care, the importance of fighting gender-based violence, and appointing and electing more women to office.   

Key parts of the blueprint are:

1. Supporting women’s entrepreneurship and skills development for food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase their farm production by 20 to 30 percent, raising agricultural output in developing countries by up to 4 percent. Today, due to a succession of natural disasters including the earthquake, nearly 50 percent of Haitians find themselves in situations of food insecurity. Therefore, the revival of agriculture and development of agribusiness in Haiti is essential for both food security and economic growth.

The problem is that Haitian women currently do not have equal access to the economic programs and incentives that have emerged to revive the agricultural sector and improve food security for vulnerable populations. Therefore, the platform’s women economic empowerment program focuses on providing Haitian women with increased economic and educational opportunities through business development and innovation in the agribusiness industry. By targeting women-led associations, small-scale businesses and integrating nutritional interventions to improve the health of school children, this program further develops Haiti’s agricultural sector and acts as a catalyst for generating broad-based economic growth and greater food security.

2. Creating One-Stop Centers for female empowerment and wellness.

While creating the Women’s Policy Platform, we’ve heard that access to health care and social services has been the overwhelming concern. Gender-based violence is widespread throughout the country, particularly due to post-earthquake conditions, such as the lack of safety patrols in camps, limited access to justice, and the erosion of social networks. Dealing with the effects of this violence is one of the key policy priorities within the platform. To address this issue, with the support of the Norway government, construction of a first pilot One-Stop Center will launch in Southern Haiti in early March of this year. It will be the first in a network of co-located women resource centers throughout the country. These centers will offer a variety of essential social services for women under a single roof, including health services, legal and psychological assistance to violence survivors, literacy, computer and vocational training, and medical and leadership skills development. These centers will also offer other services such as day care, nutrition assistance and vaccinations for children, and general support for women senior citizens.

3. Providing funding for female candidates to increase women political leadership.

Three years after the earthquake, Haiti is at a crossroads; its future depends on quality leadership, one that is motivated first and foremost by the common good. Haiti needs leaders of value to inspire and transform lives, to motivate people to take action, and to promote social justice, human rights and prosperity for all.

The process of making change begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making roles and assisting them in being elected and serving as effective representatives. Haitian women currently comprise less than 3 percent of the nation’s parliament. As in many other countries around the world, most Haitian women lack the economic resources necessary to become political candidates and run successful political campaigns. That’s why the platform is providing nonpartisan support and campaign funds to women political candidates for senate and local governance in Haiti. The hope is through this initiative, more women will run in upcoming elections resulting in more elected women officials and policy makers. We believe women elected to those roles will be invested in providing leadership and building alliances to create gender-sensitive government reforms.

We’ve begun that work with the seven women in our government cabinet, female parliamentarians and various public-private partnerships that include female civil society and grassroots leaders. Guided by the platform, these leaders engage in multiple dialogues, join in important conversations, and translate the platform into concrete actions.

We are rethinking the new Haiti dream and reframing the country’s destiny. The reconstruction of Haiti cannot only be about construction codes and safe building. It is about building trust and common values among the Haitian leaders of today, and those of tomorrow.


Danielle Saint-Lot is Ambassador-at-Large for investment in women's empowerment for the Republic of Haiti. She is the former executive director of Haiti’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its former Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. In 1998 she cofounded Femmes en Démocratie, the Haitian chapter of the Vital Voices organization, which works to promote women leadership, human rights, entrepreneurship and political participation in collaboration with hundreds of women’s groups, the Haitian government and international partners. She also serves on the steering committee of the Haiti Hope project.