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TiCam
03-07-07, 02:49 PM
Excerpts from an article written by Marie Carmel Paul-Austin

Why women have been excluded

Haitian women have been excluded, marginalized and denied every right to participate and contribute in every aspect of society. Denial of universal rights, exclusion of half of the population, meaning women, the Napoleonic Civil Code has us listed as minors, thus incompetent and classified with children and retarded individuals. This implies in pure legal terms, not responsible, not accountable in any way under the law.
Our Republic was so funded: Undemocratic and anti-Woman. Our first Constitution of 1805, affirms clearly the status of citizenry in article # 5 as: to be a good citizen is to be a good son, a good father, a good husband and certainly a good soldier. All attributes of the male; all characteristics based upon a sexist conception of male domination and superiority.
Therefore, women?s access to political and economic power will be far from proportionate with their numbers, needs or contributions. And their participation in decision-making processes will lag behind men?s at all levels: from the collective (in parliaments, boardrooms, unions, etc...) to the individual (in working places, between couples); from places where women are under-represented to those where they are the majority (like many neighborhood groups), but where their opinions carry less weight.
Male authority is so ubiquitous that it is accepted as well by many women and men as natural. Although it is often enforced by physical strength, authority per se is not a biological attribute. It is a learned behavior, a privilege, a reward, earned or arbitrary, granted and taken away. Men are socialized to exercise it, women are socialized to defer to it. Manifestations of the asymmetrical power relations between men and women are everywhere to be seen. There are de facto powers, like male privilege in society and tradition; there is the male bias inherent in institutions like the police, the courts and legislatures; there is the ideological legitimacy of women?s subordination in education and culture. There are de jure imbalances institutionalized in discriminatory property laws and inheritance rights. This is due to the fact that those laws and legal structures were created by men, under their own initiative and to protect their own interests.
Indeed, throughout our history, despite major contributions of women in all phases of our national liberation, Haitian women have been kept away of the political forefront, just by the fact they were biologically different. Fighting side by side our soldiers and generals, transporting munitions and arms, aborting in massive numbers so our descendants would not have to suffer the wrath of slavery (this constitute a specific contribution of women); in hiding fugitives, women were everywhere in the battle front, using their multidimensional and versatile characteristics to fight in this war, against all servitudes. But, no recognition whatsoever of their involvement and participation in the struggle for freedom and liberty was granted in the first Imperial Constitution of 1805.
Not discouraged, nor demoralized, Haitian women would reveal themselves to be resilient and resistant to male domination and the patriarchal manner of regulating social, economic and political life. Deceptively absent from the ‚?? History books‚? , shying away the mainstream of life, they have managed to maintain a firm presence, as a way of resisting, through arts, religion, health, education, commerce and trade. Those fields ‚??left‚? to them, as being suited for them. Indeed, all through the 19th century, we can easily cite many women that have left their marks on those areas mentioned earlier. A long range of educators, nurses, storytellers, mambos and a few women pioneers in social life can be noted. As the Haitian collective psyche would have women designed or coined as ‚??poto mitan‚? , that is ‚??the central pillar‚? , conceding both the major role that they play in social and economic life, but also, rendering their presence as evident as symbolic as a major voodoo element.
However, the facts and figures say otherwise to this ‚? invariable presence‚? or constantly importance of women when it comes to power-sharing. There rests the issue: who controls whom and what? We have seen it elsewhere, whenever the masses, in this specific case, women, were no longer useful, needed, how quickly they were discarded, pushed aside and denied every opportunity to benefit from what they have contributed to achieve. So, as we expose them, the following figures will best explain this evident and permanent exclusion of women from the political arena, at some levels more than others:
Since 1985, one of the major resolutions adopted in Nairobi, was the full participation of women in all levels of decision-making processes. This was followed by all successive international for a on Women, either it be the First Summit of the Americas, in 1994, in Beijing, in 1995, and in all conferences held at CIM/OAS (1998-2004). Previously, in 1957, some Haitian women would participate and win votes as mayors; in 1990, 8% of candidates in a 52 % electorate, but only 2.8% were elected as legislators (deputies, none as senator), 3.3% as local officials, 9% as mayors. In 1995, the numbers had not changed from voters to candidates, but only 3 women were seating at the Congress, and 2.4% were elected as locals, while 25 of 84 were elected as heads of territorial assemblies. A few were mayors, that?s less than 15%. In 2000, a major change occurs, since 33% of the Senate seats were occupied by women; then again only 3 remained in Congress. The national picture (local, municipal) has not altered from previous elections. In present-day elections, women still make 49% of the electorate and for 30 seats in the Senate, only 8 women are on the ballot lists against 143 men. Despite large efforts on their part to gather forces, financial resources, energies, the Haitian electorate in general doesn?t vote ‚??woman‚? and doesn?t view the vote as being ‚??sexed‚? . In other words, power is seen less than a feature of relations between men and women, but one of class, caste and race relations, rather. So far, in spite of the existence of a large political platform regrouping all women candidates, one fails to predict tangible results.

Where do haitian women stand
The population of Haiti is estimated at 8 millions, according to IHSI. The annual population growth rate is 2.08, with a birth rate of 32.7%, and an average population density of 250 habitants/km2.
52% of the population are women, from which 61.6% live in rural areas. The life expectancy for women is 56 years, while it is 54 years for men.
The birth index per woman is 4.4. Women migration has contributed to a 37% increase in urbanization, because women living in rural areas went from 77.5% in 1981 to 61.6% in 2001.Demographic pressure has limited access to services and goods for women who live in most marginalized urban and suburban areas, where basic institutions and/or state agencies are deficient or inexistent.
In the field of Education, 80% of the schools belong to the private sector, the remaining 20% can hardly respond to the needs of both, young boys and girls coming from underprivileged families.The net percentage of enrolment, at age 6, is estimated at 43% among young girls and at 51%, among young boys. This clearly shows a deficit to be tackled with, in consideration of universal education for girls. Literacy rates vary from 58.7% for women to 69.9% for men.

The issue of Health coverage and access is not different. In fact, national health coverage is limited and only 60% of the population has access to some sort of health care, which is not generalized. In this somber picture, the maternal mortality rate reaches 680 for 100.000 living births, since only 46% of deliveries are done under Health professionals? supervision and assistance, while 78% of Health facilities do not provide any maternity/delivery services. More than half of the population do not have access to family planning. The contraceptive prevalence reaches only 22.3%. HIV prevalence is 4.6-5.0%, and the sex ratio is equivalent to 1; which demonstrates that an equivalent number of men and women are infected by HIV, even though recent investigations conducted by the Haitian Institute for the Child and GHESKIO centers show that the number of pregnant women infected with HIV tends to increase.
While the Economy is being largely sustained by women, as an important component of the so-called ‚??informal sector‚? , the Growth rate is only of $310 revenue per capita and a GNP of 10,413 gourdes a year. The inflation rate is of 16.5%. Net exportation rate does not surpass 9.8% while importation rates near 29.8%. This loss of currency/capital is not compensated by some sort of national production. We have recognized the fact that women contribute up to 70% of the national economy but the problem resides in that they profit in less than 38% of goods generated. They are mostly active in this informal sector, and they do not enjoy any financial autonomy which could protect them from financial market surges. While, every major transaction or transfer of goods (agricultural or otherwise) lies on the shoulder of Haitian women who are omnipresent in all public markets, braving terrible roads on donkey-back, thus facilitating exchanges and networking. The result is obvious: feminization of poverty, aggravated by prostitution and the spread of HIV infection, running through the most productive group of the population. According to data available from IHSI, almost 1/3 of working women become beggars after 70 years of age, and there is no social security system capable of helping them. With no macro-economic framework and a rigorous planning from the State, what one to expect for those at the bottom of the social ladder?!
With the lack of a Business Code of Investments and the recurrent social and political instability, Haiti is no position of welcoming foreign capital that could generate jobs and employment. The scarcity of factories in small or secondary cities and rural areas tend to reinforce internal migration, mostly towards larger cities; this encourages women to come to urban areas in search of jobs in factories, or when all else fails, as housekeepers, or merchants or vagrants, wandering the streets with children.
As rural women are even less fortunate; 49% of them are farmers, according to IHSI, but their wages can not cover the basic needs to survive and to reproduce themselves and their families.
Finally, speaking of women?s political and social involvement, their contribution in governing and/or running of public affairs, the result should be self-evident in light of what we have described, noted and illustrated before. And exercise of power shows severe inequities that are antagonistic to democracy; this is persistent with the fact that women are consistently excluded from decision-making structures and processes. In fact, very few women had had a chance to be nominated to executive functions during the ę democratic interlude Ľ of the last 20 years, in spite of the fact that a woman became president in 1990, for the first time in our history. At local levels, which is the epitome of decentralized power, women have been greatly absent. Only 3,3% were elected as Conseils d?administration de la section communale (CASEC) and 2% in the Judicial branch of power. This situation restrains their ability to negotiate, with regards to prejudices limiting their full basic rights usage.
The basic issue is that of power. Who owns what in terms of property and means of production of capital/financial resources and access? Who is doing what? Indeed, historically, women have been left out of the power field, and denied access to proper education and health care services, given the mere fact they were women. All things granted to men by birth. Thus, the patriarchal State, as we know it, has managed to keep women dependant of their male partners to function, literally, in society. Every simple act of social reproduction will have to seek approval or be conceded by a male authority, either it be the father, the brother, the husband or male companion. A constant reminder of submission or domination has always inhabited the woman?s collective unconscious mind, alienating every aspect of her life, breeding a culture of marginalization and exclusion at worse. Those dividing factors, for men and women, take root as social and legal codes in the judicial systems as we saw early on; and public policies only constitute the formal and institutional lock-out.

Systemic discrimination
Having disclose all the bare facts (statistics) about the situation of discrimination against women, one can not ignore where sit the fundamentals of all this. Those indices, numbers what do they translate? They can not be fabricated by women (against themselves), while all the social apparatus is male dominated. The question could be: Do men do not care what happen to women and girls in our society?
To us it is not a question of caring or not caring. It is certainly and most definitely a question of historical, traditional way of viewing sex relations and the social fabrics of human relations as being man and being woman. In other words, it is easier to think of power as a feature of race, caste and class relations than of relations between women and men, as we said and attempted to demonstrate before.
We will not recall the historical settings which explains or described the imbalances of sex relations, many well versed female theorists and historians have done so (Perrault, Badinter, ). But we can certainly, while noticing some major and radical progress in that matter, underline how and where these "imbalances" become systemic discrimination, invading all walks of life, regulating and codifying the way, humans as men and women relate to and with each other. It is embedded in the legal and judicial systems of codes and laws; it is also supported by the stereotypes and gender roles assigned to each sex, as "natural" ; while this ‚??natural‚? label is reduced to biological, thus immuable. As if men and women are codified, not by their specific talents, but by their biological traits and are expected to behave in certain "fixed" ways. It is expected of them certain things and not others. A pre-conceived and prejudiced attitude of classifying humans, no more, but less. This so-called ‚??natural‚? behavior is nothing but a social construction throughout the years, even centuries. Indeed, both men and women have been socially raised to participate or not participate, to engage or not engage, and so on. Thus, we can say without any doubt, that the natural has been constructed, has been transformed by societal expectations and classifications, societal pre/mis-conceptions. In order to regulate this, to formalize the specific roles attributed to each sex, it was convenient to develop a corpus of laws and reglementations that would facilitate and render life "normal" in all collectivities, for all concerned. This is the price that half of humanity had paid by entering the age of modernism. All the struggles of the 18th and 19th centuries would find women, part of them, but not gaining any of the reaps of the coming of age of the modern man as being: free, mobile, happy. With modernism comes sexism at its core, since, the substance of all human dignity and sovereignty will be denied to half of the human race, on the basis of sex. We have no intention of sidestepping the fact that the universal man was not even inclusive of all men (regarding of color and/or social status). This constitutes another debate and this not the purpose of our intervention. We have already insinuated how the issue of power is deeply related to class-race relations and structures than any other factor. And for our specific topic in discussion, we will not venture into this path.
For women, sexism describes the specificity of female oppression. Starting from the traditional belief of the difference between the sexes, sexism embodies two core concepts:
The first is that men are more important than women. Not necessarily superior, we are far too sophisticated these days than to use those tainted terms?but more important, more significant, more valuable, more worthwhile. It justifies the idea that it is more important for a man, the "breadwinner", to have a Job or a promotion, than a woman, more important for a man to be paid well, more important for a man to have an education and in general to have preference over a women. It is the basis of the feeling by men that if women enter a particular occupation they will degrade it and that men must leave or be themselves degraded, and the feeling by women that they can raise the prestige of their professions by recruiting men, which they can only do by giving them the better jobs. From this value comes the attitude that a husband must earn more than his wife or suffer a loss of personal status and a wife must subsume her interests to his or be socially castigated. From this value, comes the practice of rewarding men for serving in the armed forces and punishing women for having children. This first core concept of sexist thought is that men do the important work in the world and the work done by men is what is important.
The second core concept is that women are here for the pleasure and assistance of men. This is what is meant when women are told that their role is complementary to that of men; that they should fulfill their natural "feminine" functions; that they are "different" from men and should not compete with them. From this concept comes the attitude that women are and should be dependent on men; for everything but especially their identities, the social definition of who they are. It defines the few roles for which women are socially rewarded, like wife, mother and mistress, all of which are pleasing or beneficial to men, and leads directly to the "pedestal" theory which praises and encourages women who stay in their place as good help-mates to men. The second core concept of sexist thought is that women?s identities are defined by their relationship to men and their social value by that of the men they are related to.
The sexism of our society is so insidious that we are not even aware of all its inequities. Unless one has developed a feeling to its workings, by adopting a self-consciously contrary view, its activities are accepted as "normal" and justified with little or no question. People are said to "choose" what in fact they never thought about.
It is important to stress that these two Ethics (principles) must work together in tandem. If the first is emphasized over the second, then we have a women?s right movement, not one of women?s liberation. To seek for only equality, given the current male bias of the social values, is to assume that women want to be like men or that men are worth emulating. It is to demand that women be allowed to participate in society as we know it, to get their piece of the pie, without questioning the extent to which that society is worth participating in. This view is held by some feminists, but most of them today find it inadequate. Those women who are more personally compatible in what is considered the ancient role, must realize that that role is made possible only by the existence of the female sex role; in other words, only the subjection of women. Therefore women cannot become equal to men without the destruction of those two interdependent mutably parasitic roles. The failure to realize that the integration of the sex roles and the equality of the sexes will inevitably lead to basic structural changes is to fail to seize the opportunity to decide the direction of those changes.
In a more graphic note, this following institutional framework will underline what we mean by systemic and codified state for Haitian women. Indeed, it is this long legal battle we had to face and continue to do so:
Constitution of 1987, articles 17, 18.
Decree of October 8, 1982, adopting changes in the status of the married woman (Civil code).
Convention on Elimination of all Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW 1979). This convention was ratified by Haiti with the decree of April 7, 1981.
Convention on the prevention, elimination and eradication of all violences against women (Belťm do Parŗ 1994). Was ratified on April 3, 1996; and submitted to OAS on July 2, 1997.
Convention of the Hague of 1902 treating of national laws on marriage, divorce and legal custody of minors.
International treaties relative to civil and political rights (ICPR) and economic, social and cultural rights (IESCR).
International accords to fight against women trafficking of 1904, 1910, 1921, 1933.
Convention of 1962 on marriage consent, on minimum age for marriage and their registrations.
Convention of UNESCO (1960) concerning the fight against discrimination in teaching.
Beijing Platform, 1995.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The UN Charter, in its preamble and its paragraph 3 of Article 1.
Conventions 100, 111, 156 of ILO relative to equal pay for equal work.
The treaty of SDN calling for the creation of human conditions for all, without any sexual discrimination.

Woman in Haiti, specifically have faced severe discrimination, throughout history. At the birth of the nation, despite major and substantive contributions made by them, as warriors, collaborators, mediators, women were left out when came time to share the fruits of Liberty, Equality, and emphasizing the fact that Fraternity doesn?t carry any universal, neutral sense, but more than ever related to male attributes and to man alone.
From 1804 to 1950, women in Haiti were devoid of any right whatsoever. As non-citizens, they would not vote, get access to school, unless primary or basic education, would not participate in full terms in every aspect of social life, except for those decided by social standards, tabous, thus, social bias. The right to vote came as late as 1950, and it was selectively ascribed for local elections. In 1957, women were finally permitted as candidates, but only for restricted, but lower-level positions, such as mayors, councilpersons. The fact is, they could vote now, but not permitted to be voted for, unless for these restricted positions. History will retain that as a social group, women could elect others to represent them; it is as if the right to vote was a lure or a farce. It has required the passing and ratification of international conventions such as CEDAW, in 1981 and that of Belem do Para, in 1997, to introduce some important, but determinant clauses regarding the status of Haitian women. Until today, many gaps have to be filled, many discrepancies have to be re-examined, many shortcomings have to be addressed and straightened up in our national legal system.
What we mean by that, it is the train of actual laws and legal dispositions that keep women at bay and away from political participation and economic involvement. It is a system that treats us as minors, therefore in need of a tutor, a master, in such horrible cases where women are constantly shattered and diminished as human beings. The legal and judiciary systems combined will have women incapacitated, not able, not capable of minding their own business, represent themselves in any court of law, not able to contract anything with or in behalf of anyone. Despite of several landmarks, like the law-decree of October 8, 1982, and the establishment of a ministerial body in charge of Woman status and rights, in 1994, despite of several policies and the creation of state agencies addressing women?s issues in particular, a lot is left to be done. Because the road ahead is far from arduous, difficult than the one already covered; and traditions along with social constraints make it harder for us to recover from secular and historical hardship.
However, women have yet to be defined as people, and it is erroneous to assume their interests are identical to those of men. For women to reconsider their concerns once again is to insure that the promise of liberation will be a vain one. In fine, the language of equality and non-discrimination does exist. And efforts, either at the national level and the international level are growing and persistent. The recognition that human rights of women and girls are inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights has been clearly articulated by all governments, state and international bodies and institutions. And one major landmark, at the national level, is Article 17 of our last constitution (1987), which is in rupture from the first ‚??Imperial‚? one of 1805:
"All Haitians, regardless of sex or marital status, who have attained 18 years of age, may exercise their political and civil rights if they meet all other conditions prescribed by the Constitution and the Law." (Article 17, Constitution of 1987)
However, women have yet to be defined as people, and it is erroneous to assume their interests are identical to those of men. For women to reconsider their concerns once again is to insure that the promise of liberation will be a vain one. In fine, the language of equality and non-discrimination does exist. And efforts, either at the national level and the international level are growing and persistent. The recognition that human rights of women and girls are inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights has been clearly articulated by all governments, state and international bodies and institutions. And one major landmark, at the national level, is Article 17 of our last constitution (1987), which is in rupture from the first ‚??Imperial‚? one of 1805:
"All Haitians, regardless of sex or marital status, who have attained 18 years of age, may exercise their political and civil rights if they meet all other conditions prescribed by the Constitution and the Law." (Article 17, Constitution of 1987)