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Reflections on Haiti:
Tracking the Course of Our Women’s Movement

Nekita Lamour

Dear friends,

As I have been reading all these poetries on women during the month of March, I decided to share one my writings on Women. I really appreciate those that seem more interesting than mine which is more historical. Sorry folks I can't make you laugh or feel good since I am not a poet God gave each person their own gift.

The text contains historical view of events that led to the Women’s movement in the United States and Europe. I continued with a Haitian women historical perspective. I also wrote a glance on Women in the Arts, music, and literature.

I wrote the following 4 and half pages in March 2004. It was a lengthy research reading from web sites, books in French, English and Creole. I hope who ever uses it in the radios, TV or their own papers would give me some credit. It’s ironic I don’t have to edit anything in the introduction.

Although the Haitian focus is on what what I refer to “ a countinuous 200 plus year saga”, we need to take the time to reflect more on the Haitian Women’s plight during March. The following is a version of my column that appeared on the March  issue of the Boston Haitian Reporter under the title,

Reflections on Haiti: Tracking the Course of Our Women’s Movement

Significant historical occurrences led to March becoming “International Women’s Month” or March 8, “International Women’s Day”.  On March 8, l857 hundreds of female textile workers were beaten by New York police when rallying for better working conditions and higher wages. On March 8, l908, 15,000 women rallied under the slogan “Bread and Roses” to end child labor, low wages, and the right to vote. In New York city’s Asch building located at the northwest corner of Washington and Greene streets, due to the practice of locked exit doors so the women won’t leave their sewing machines, on March 25 1911, in less than 15 minutes,146 immigrants mostly Jewish and Italian women and girls died in the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. This disastrous incident will set precedent for mandatory safer conditions in the workplace.

At the end of the l9th century, women participated in various political movements that were taking place in Europe. By March 1905, thousands of female workers in the former Soviet Union organized and participated in significant strikes that led to the fall Czar and establishment of the Russian Marxist regime which lasted from l917 to l991. That historic day when Russian women gained the right to vote was on Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar, or March 8 on the Gregorian calendar. These events led to the first international meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark on women’s issue in l910, a conference led by German feminist Clara (Eissner) Zetkin (1857-1933), editor of the Social Democrat Party’s Paper Die Gleichheit (Equality). Since this convention, Europeans started honoring women on the last Sunday of February. United States women began to observe national Women’s day the last Sunday of February - on February 28, l909 and did so until l913. However, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland were the first countries to officially observe an International Women’s Day in March- March 19, l911.

Simone De Beauvoir’s two volume publication of “Le Deuxième Sexe” (the Second Sex) in 1949 will shape the course of the women’s movement which reached its peak in the l970’s. Betty Friedan’s, l963 The Feminine Mystique, Kate Millet’s l970 Sexual Politics, and the works of Gloria Steinem would have an impact on the Women’s movement also. On the first U.N sponsored Women’s convention in Mexico City in l975, United Nations declared March 8 the International Women’s Day. In l985, a second international women gathering occurred in Kenya, and a Third one in l995 in Beijing.

The l975 U. N conference in Berlin set an impetus for women all over the world to reflect on their lives. Third World began addressing their situation as well. In case of Haiti, the 1930’s women’s movement, “League Feminine d’Action Sociale(LFAS)” that went into hiatus in the l950’s because of rape, beatings and other violence that its members suffered under the Duvalier regime resurged. After the l975 U.N gathering, Haitian women began to gather in Port-au-Prince and in the provinces. However the “Second Awakening” of the women’s movement happened after Baby Doc’s departure in 1986. Women of “Mouvman Peyizan Papay”, near Hinche as well as those in St. Michel de l’Atalaye had whole day reflections in March of 1986 and l987. “Fanm Dayiti ( Women of Haiti) had radio and television programs in Port-au-Prince. Numerous publications concerning Haitian women began to appear. Mireille Neptune Anglade’s "l’Autre Moitié du Developpement" , shed light on the Haitian women’s economic and social contributions.

The Post Duvalier’s revival of Haiti’s women’s movement became a mass engagement compared to the l930’s LFAS' works that led to Haitian women voting for the first time in l957. The Haitian Women’s National Social Action League that started in l934 was primarily an organization of the intellectual elite.

Haiti’s Women movement from the mid l970’s to now encompasses all social and intellectual classes. An editorial in “Ayiti Fanm,” a Haitian women’s Creole paper wrote in 1996 , “If March 8, is International Women’s Day, April 3 is Haitian Women’s Movement Day.” On April 3, l986, 30,000 women took the streets to claim their place, their human rights, and to make themselves visible in Haiti’s society. During the 1991-1994 coup, almost every progressive association including women’s organizations functioned clandestinely until Aristide’s return in October l994.

Though women had been lawyers deputies, senators, mayors, minister of Women’s affairs, Haitian women entered higher level political office in the l990’s.

Ertha Trouillot, then chief-justice of Haiti’s Supreme Court became Haiti’s first female president in 1990. When Rene Preval’s prime minister Smack Michel resigned in l996, Claudette Werleigh became Haiti’s first female prime minister.

Haitian Women associations flourished in diasporic cities as well. For instance, Fanm Ayisyenn lan Miyami (FANM) became very involved not only women’s issues, but other obstacles that affect Haitian immigrants such as AIDS and refugee dilemmas. Issues that had caused tensions among women in the l980’s such as domestic violence had become central focus of women’s service agencies, especially in Boston.

Haitian women’s artistic talents became more publicized in the l980’s also.

From l950’s until the mid l980’s names such as Toto Bissainthe, Lumane Casimir, Martha Jean Claude, Emerantes De Pradines were the only female names known in the music world. Solo women like Farah Juste, Fédia Laguerre, Carole Demesmin, Emeline Micheline, Marie Michele Saurel began to change the shape of the man only arena. Until the l990’s, names such as Emma Achille and Marie Michel Tangar were the only females known in evangelical music world. However in the last decade, countless christian (evangelical) women singers started recording. The most recent one, less known is Marie Ghislaine Pierre from Brooklyn.

We will do a disservice to Haitian women writers, particularly to living literary pioneers like Paulette Poujol Oriole, Odette Roy Fombrun, Ghislaine Charlier to attempt to cover Haitian women literature in one paragraph. We will also dishonor our heroines like Susanne Simon Jean Baptiste, Toussaint Louverture’s wife; Madame Maurepas who saved Dessalines from a first assassination attempt, and Claire Heureuse his wife to talk briefly about the role of women in Haiti’s history . We will only refer to Fine Faubert the first published Haitian woman writer. Fine, born Josephine was the daughter of Lachenais who is known in Haiti’s history as the “The President of two presidents.” Joute, “the iron woman” behind Pétion and Boyer gave birth in l802 to Josephine (Boyer’s stepdaughter) who married Pierre Faubert in l826. Fine Faubert’ letters to her husband are considered as Haiti’s first female writings to have been published in l847 by her husband Pierre Fauber. Fine wrote those descriptive passionate letters to Pierre Faubert during his frequent trips with Jean Pierre Boyer.

Her request for divorce so she could marry her confident Normil Brouard when Faubert was a political prisoner upon his return from France was not accepted because of Faubert’s catholic orthodoxy. Normil died. After 17 years of separation, Fine and Pierre Faubert reconciled. Referring to Edner Brutus, Marie Therese Colimon wrote in French in l997”Fine Faubert is a rare pearl in the Haitian literary world.”

Until the l970’s creation of Saint Soleil, the Haitian male artists were at the forefront of Haitian national and international art exhibits since Dewitt Peters, an American artist brought Haitian art to the international world in the 1940’s.In l998 “Le Toit de la Grande Arche was published." It is a full colored 142 page art book containing pictures and biographic details of the artists, mostly females who contributed to a major art exhibit in Paris that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. The Haitian Consulate in New York also compiled photographs of a Haitian Women Art exhibit that occurred throughout the month of March l999. An art book published in 2003 of Haitian artists in the diaspora features a few women. From March 14 to April 25 of this year (2004), Haitian women’s artistic works will be displayed at Hammonds House Galleries in Atlanta Georgia under the title "Visual Expression-Haitian Women Artists" with Amy Cornish as the curator.

In today’s diasporic society, Haitian women are present in universities, hospitals, courts, and in a legislative house. It’s only the beginning. A current generation of Haitian women and girls have no role models in their immediate environments such as schools and churches. Many Haitian communities don’t have an atmosphere in which younger Haitians both male and females can interact with the previous generations. Even with the technological world, Haitians as other minorities have fewer computers at home. Interest in the printing world which is the easiest mode of communication is hardly fostered among Haitian influential entities.

Today many women’s programs as in many Haitian organizations are service providers. The Haitian community needs to be organized. We need to build coalitions that can solidify the community. Women’s associations, artists, musicians, writers. lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawmakers, and others need to communicate with other disciplines and cultures and open their horizon in the dawn of 21st century “globalization” - “Information Age era.”

Finally I hope the discourse on Haitian woman doesn’t end in March, for Haitian woman is the strength of the economy and the social fabric of Haiti. Her voice, issues and concerns need to be brought daily on the Haitian radios, televisions, and the churches’ pews and pulpits which are, as the majority of Haitians their main sources of information.

P.S. I want to thank Betsy Warrior from Cambridge, Mass. for her numerous pages of references and insights on the historical developments of International Women’s Day. Betsy, a life long advocate of women’s rights and domestic violence programs is the author of “Battered lives”and “Houseworkers' handbook” published by Dole Publishing in Somerville, Mass. 1975.

©Nekita Lamour
March 2004

Betty Friedan who died on February 4-2006 was born on February 4-1921. Her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique gave birth to the l970’s contemporary women’s movement. At a time when most women stayed home, Ms, Friedan went to work after marriage. 

Women had become head of states also. In 2006, Chile elected Michelle Bachelet. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first elected female head of states. (I got to see President Johnson- Sirleaf at Harvard’s School of Government on 9-18-06). She is such an eloquent, thoughtful, and knowledgeable speaker).

Germany elected Angela Merkel a female chancellor in 2006. We also lost two great Black women late 2005 and earlier in 2006. The mothers of the civil rights movement Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King had returned to the Lord.

In 2007, Portia Simpson Miller became the first female prime minister in Jamaica.

Despite of all the accomplishments, women are so divided because of race, class, in our Haitian case attitudes that collective accomplishments are difficult to attain. 


Viré monté