Haitian Feminists Celebrate Lost Leaders

What better place to have spent International Women’s Day than in solidarity with Haitian feminists? It was a moving event full of singing, speeches, candles and tears,  marked by profound respect for Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan–feminist leaders who were lost during the earthquake.

The event was organized by CONAP, the Haitian women’s umbrella organization, and the day was dedicated to promoting feminist values, reaffirming the struggle, strengthening solidarity and recapturing the momentum of the Haitian women’s movement despite the recent tragedy.

Myriam Merlet was the former chief of staff for Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women and an activist in her own right. Dedicated to fighting violence against women, particularly the use of rape as a political weapon, Merlet was also one of the founders of ENFOFANM, a feminist information clearinghouse.

Magalie Marcelin founded Kay Fanm, an organization providing support services and shelter to survivors of domestic violence. Kay Fanm is one of UNFPA’s (United Nations Population Fund) key partners in providing services for earthquake survivors.

Anne Marie Coriolan also dedicated her life to ending violence against women. She founded Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women, or SOFA),  another key partner providing services to survivors of violence.

Together these women were quite a force, protecting women’s rights and inspiring women throughout Haiti, and the ceremony to honor their lives was both powerful and humbling. Meanwhile, the groups that they founded continue to rise from the rubble and reclaim their space. I took from this event a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity, leaving with the conviction that we owe it to these fabulous foremothers to forge ahead for the women of Haiti.

Photos by the author; all rights reserved.

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I am a gender & development practitioner and researcher with 12 years of experience in some incredibly interesting countries like Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea--and now Haiti. I focus mostly on gender-based violence but have worked on a broad range of gender issues including HIV&AIDS, political participation, etc.--whatever is needed to promote gender equality wherever I might be! For instance, in Papua New Guinea I worked on gender issues through an HIV&AIDS program, addressing sexual violence as both a cause and consequence of HIV status. In Sierra Leone, I worked with sexual assault referral centers to address the needs of women survivors of violence. In Afghanistan, I set up an international NGO to provide basic services, rights training, and skills training for Afghan women. These experiences led to my PhD--researching the effects of gender-focused international aid in conflict and post-conflict contexts, with a specific focus on gender-based violence. My book, “Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan: The Politics and Effects of Intervention”, was released late last year. And now I’m in Haiti – working as the Gender-Based Violence Coordinator with the UN Humanitarian Response.