Tag Archives: haiti

Women Advance the Fundamentals for Haiti’s Future

Haitian president Michel Martelly visits the women involved in drafting a National Platform of Action in Port-au-Prince on March 1, 2012. (Photo: Haitienne Magazine)

I just returned from Haiti, where I was working with women convened by the Haitian group Femmes en Democratie to develop a women’s policy platform.  In Creole, nap vanse means we advance, and it is critical that Haitians move forward together to build a stronger country and a stronger economy.

The priorities identified can help both women and men prosper, but women’s participation in Haiti’s political, economic, and social institutions is critical.  Women comprise 52% of Haiti’s population, and approximately 44% of households are led by women.  Like every country, Haiti cannot make economic and social progress if it leaves half of its people behind and if it fails to tap the diverse experiences, talents and vision of its women.

All Haitians were affected by the 2010 earthquake, but women were hit especially hard.  Haitian women were left to pick up the pieces with limited internal resources.  Despite that, women remain outside of the formal decision-making sphere at all levels.  Presently, women comprise less than 3% of the nation’s Parliament and their voices have largely been left out of the reconstruction efforts. While the constitution was amended in 2011 to include a 30% quota for women in national life, that quota has not been implemented.

The platform that was developed is a blueprint for action — by the Haitian government, international partners, the business community, political parties and candidates for public office — to address the needs of all Haitians.  It is based on input from 315 focus groups with more than 3,200 women and men from rural and urban communities in Haiti, from all walks of life and income levels.  The process highlighted the real needs, hopes and dreams of Haitian women and men for the future of their country, and the importance of women in that future.   Importantly, 47% of the participants were men and 53% were women.

The platform identified common priority issues and concrete policy proposals to  (1) increase economic and education opportunities for women and their communities, (2) ensure that adequate infrastructure and environment exists for development; (3) improve access to health care and address gender based violence and (4) increase women’s political and civic participation.

Underpinning the platform is a focus on strengthening the role and effective involvement of women in all sectors of society.  At the same time, the platform recognizes that investing in women and ensuring women’s full economic, political, and social participation builds a stronger, more stable society, which creates a foundation for increased investment in Haiti and a path to sustainable growth.

These economic policies span strengthening Haiti’s agricultural sector by establishing farming and fishing cooperatives run by women, to ensuring greater access to credit with reasonable requirements and low interest rates.  Infrastructure is critically important and the women focused on the need for primary and secondary public schools, roads and community health centers and hospitals, as well as ensuring widespread access to potable water and electricity.

Health and gender based violence were addressed by concrete policies to establish community health centers and hospitals, fund activities to combat gender based violence and  increase legal assistance for victims of gender based violence.  The priorities for increasing women’s political and civic participation were to establish technical and financial support for women running for political office as well as to ensure the passage and implementation of the 30% quota for all levels of government and decision making positions.

This was an exciting time to be in Haiti, and the interconnected policies set out by these Haitian women and men are fundamental to a Haiti that can truly advance.

Stephenie Foster is a Professorial Lecturer at the Women & Politics Institute at American University and an international advocate for women’s empowerment. She has participated in numerous international programs and projects sponsored by the United States State Department, the Vital Voices Global Partnership, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and others, and  is currently a member of the board of directors of Women Thrive WorldwidePartners for Democratic Change and the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum.

Haiti’s unmet challenge of governance reform

Many of Haiti's rebuilding needs remain unmet. Photo via Freedom House.

The unprecedented media attention to Haiti’s recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake quickly waned. This year’s presidential elections were a rather small blip on the media radar, and when Haiti did make the headlines, it was not necessarily for anything that would make its citizens proud.

Yet the situation in Haiti remains dire. Billions of dollars in aid have been committed and spent, but visible improvements in governance, lack of which was the main reason that the earthquake had such an impact, are just not there.

As to why – Paul Collier’s (the author of the Bottom Billion) overview of a new book by Paul Farmer on Haiti’s attempt to recover from the devastating earthquake provides some answers. In large part they boil down to the fact that history and culture matter in institutional change and improving governance is much more difficult than implementing a set of technical reforms.

It was unfortunate that Haiti had to have an election following the earthquake, which turned the attention away from rebuilding and governance improvements to political campaigning. Rife with fraud and corruption, the election further undermined the already weak trust citizens had in their government.

Similarly, proliferation of NGOs involved in all aspects of Haitian society created a double problem – NGOs themselves could not address challenges on the systematic level as the government should, yet their extensive work throughout the country undermined the ability of the government to perform its role (and this challenge in not unique to Haiti).

International aid agencies had also faced some difficulties on the ground, in part due to suspicion with which Haitian citizens treated such efforts for historical reason. The billions committed to reconstruction could not be effectively spent as the state lacked capacity and was rife with corruption, NGOs weren’t able to meet the task of large infrastructure projects on their own, and, most importantly, the chain of decision-making (and accountability) was simply not there. An effort to set up a commission to fill that decision-making void misfired – instead of bringing all the different parties together (donors, government, NGOs), the opposite happened.

Even though Haiti has been replaced in the headlines by other events – the job of rebuilding the country still seems to be at the very early stages. Much remains to be done. But Collier sees a way out, suggesting that we’ll begin to see real change in Haiti when “the governing elite will start to smell the opportunities of economic progress more strongly than the opportunities for public plunder.” This is what happened in Rwanda, perhaps this can happen in Haiti too.

What’s your Haiti?

A street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo: Flickr user luvjnx)

There are so many versions of Haiti right now.

Shattered Haiti still lingers. This week marks one year since the earthquake that reduced much of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to dust, and by all accounts rebuilding efforts have been disappointing at most. Generations without effective democratic governance deprived construction firms and workers any guidance or codes to which they could adhere for earthquake-proofing or just general solid construction. Meanwhile without effective property rights administration, as is common throughout the developing world, migrants from rural areas settled into shantytowns without any formally-recognized documentation of residency or ownership that might have entitled them to insurance or maybe public compensation for lost property.

Hopeful Haiti has captivated many imaginations.

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Effective Reconstruction is Building Markets and Cultivating Entrepreneurship

$9 billion in Haiti. $10.4 billion in Afghanistan. $16.3 billion in Iraq.

The need for effective reconstruction efforts around the world continues to grow and financial support for it has never been greater. So why is reform languishing? An insightful report from NPR’s This American Life on Haiti’s road to recovery tries to make sense of this quandary as national elections in the country approach this year. With “unprecedented amounts” of money pledged to Haitian relief since March alone, in addition to the active work of some 10,000 aid groups and NGOs, the country’s development has stalled, if not regressed. Haiti’s case is all too common. The challenge is getting past simply the best of intentions and actually embarking on a policy that helps Haitians help themselves.

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Governance Matters

Natural catastrophes are beyond any government’s ability to control, regardless of the best intentions and planning. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and their tragic consequences are reminders of this. Yet, the respective national responses are also reminders that governance matters. The disparity between the two governments’ responses to a natural disaster was highlighted in recent separate analyses by Paul Collier and Anne Appelbaum. Despite years of development aid and capacity building, the Haitian government was largely unable to provide for its citizens prior to the earthquake. It was then overwhelmed by the consequences of that event. The needs both before and after the earthquake have been filled primarily by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). A consequence of this, concludes Collier, has been the marginalization of the Haitian state.

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Tracking Disasters and Improving Donor Coordination

Ushahidi map for Haiti after the earthquake

What do Kenya, Haiti, and Chile have in common? Socially-devastating events – whether they are man- or nature-made – and the need the help people in a desperate situation.

When ethnic violence spread across Kenya following the presidential election in 2008 not only the country, the whole region was shocked over the magnitude of the disaster.  More than a thousand dead and more than a hundred thousand displaced – a real human catastrophe.  The real problem faced by those seeking to restore peace was documenting instances of ethnic violence and figuring out where help is most needed.

A post on one of the forums by a Kenyan national suggested the development of an online mapping system, that would allow citizens to report instances of violence using the most common technology available – cell phones.

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Marshall Plan for Haiti?

Thinking beyond immediate needs, what can developed nations do to help Haiti get back on its feet? Perhaps a Marshall Plan is in order? Or perhaps not, says Steve Forbes.

A Marshall Plan is a nonstarter. After World War II the U.S. pumped the equivalent of hundreds of billions in today’s dollars into war-shattered Europe, and the continent came back to life. But Europe was an economic powerhouse before the war and had the cultural traditions and institutions to make a quick comeback possible. Haiti, sadly, has none of those.

Its the institutions, stupid:

After all, tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants to the U.S. have done very well. It’s not a lack of entrepreneurial energy that has plagued this nation but the lack of an environment allowing those energies to be channeled productively.