By Ansel Herz in Port-Au-Prince and Marguerite A. Suozzi in New York
Womenâs day, a womenâs week, has brought focus again on loss and inequality that women live with – because they are women. This year it throws up the devastation women have suffered in Haiti. But not just the suffering; also the rebuilding, and with spirit.
Take Neah Lilines, smiling as she sweeps trash off the sidewalk in the trash-laden outskirts of Cite Soleil. Within the seaside slum, canals overflow with waste and excrement. Neah is among a group of elderly women who have volunteered to clean up the area after services collapsed with so much else. The women are exhausted, but they are at it.
True, men are not idle, they are in the frontlines of a good deal of aid distribution. But make no mistake, says Lelica Papagregolaiou, aid worker with the Haiti Response Coalition, âHaitian women, the âpoto mitanâ, are the backbone of the economy here.â
Women make up much of the workforce of the Haitian construction company CNE, driving bulldozers and cement trucks. And they are rebuilding homes as well as houses.
âThe families are women-centered,â Papagregolaiou says. âItâs the woman thatâs going to take care of what the family eats, to work and to plan. They are participating more than men in the reconstruction of the country, at the ground level.â
âWomen are constantly on the streets, making associations, coming together, in the rebuilding process,â Marie Berthine-Bonheur, a young Haitian woman helping coordinate the work of big aid organisations and Haitian neighbourhood groups, tells Terraviva in Port-Au-Prince.
The meetings at the CSW heard how the women now need to rebuild a place in society. Before the earthquake, one in 47 women died in childbirth. Women were significantly excluded from secondary education, and constituted just 4.1 percent of parliament and 22.2 percent of ministerial posts.
âWomen feel the need to become integrally involved in participatory democracy, and at all levels,â Flavia Cherry, chair of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), tells Terraviva in New York. âThey are saying this is a good opportunity for us to finally get it right.â
For the moment, there are immediate and pressing needs. Marjory Michel, Haitian minister for womenâs affairs, tells Terraviva that women need more security – food security, health security, secure shelter and public protection.
âImagine a woman in the rain, with a baby in her arms. That makes her more vulnerable. Not having a tent to cover herself with makes her more vulnerable. Itâs a question of security.â The women need that first.