Posted by: hettydec | January 11, 2013

Women’s Rights in Haiti

Almost 2 months in and I’m at the stage where I accidentally refer to Haiti as home and my internship as work and (delightfully) have been referred to as a local by some colleagues!

The last few weeks have been a great opportunity to get to know some of my colleagues better and gain a more thorough insight into Plan’s current projects. I’ve been conducting interviews with the country office management staff and project managers on their knowledge of gender equality and its impact throughout their projects.  Preceding the interview process my supervisor and I conducted a seminar on Plan’s global policy on gender equality that I have been working on for the last month.

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(Presenting the seminar on Gender Equality at Plan)

The depth of knowledge and commitment to gender equality has been impressive. It is the presence of such passion, particularly among the younger generation, that is beginning to change the status quo for women in Haiti. However, staff identified that the national culture remains the biggest barrier to bringing about systematic change in Haiti.

The recent introduction of stronger legislative measures to combat the endemic discrimination and violence experienced by many women in Haiti has formally improved the position of women. However, access to the judicial system is another matter entirely and renders legislative advances somewhat futile.

Today I had the opportunity to visit the district and appeal court in downtown Port-au-Prince. It’s currently operating out of the same building as the DPP (separation of powers?) as the Palais de Justice was destroyed in the earthquake.  It was a fascinating and very helpful visit for my research paper I’ll be writing in the next couple of months. We found the main courtroom after weaving through several corridors bustling with guards (nonchalantly sporting a rifle on their hip), civilians and lawyers, immediately recognisable by their familiar wad of paper under arm. Proceedings are slow-paced in Haiti as prosecutors, lawyers and judges (all 8 of whom today were men!) all read slowly enabling the longhand scribe to keep up. Court formalities were nominal and I had to fight the urge to bow to the judge upon entering.

It was hard to hear the fine details of the hearing, largely because the building abuts a busy industrial area. As there was no air-conditioning in the room, the hole in the wall serving as a window (the size of a container ship door) let the sounds of life wander in along with the intended ventilation (in amongst mobile phones going off and people talking in the ‘public gallery’). I was not alone in my struggle to follow the proceedings: the judicial and political system is conducted entirely in French which is spoken by the more educated and wealthier middle to upper classes. Hence, the non-French-speaking majority are essentially excluded from active participation.

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(Bustling, densely-populated Port-au-Prince)

I had the privilege to talk to the Public Prosecutor representative at the conclusion of the case. We discussed conditions in prisons, the improvement of which he actively advocates. He expressed frustration at the over crowding and illegally prolonged detention of suspects and often wrongly accused persons. He explained that some detainees spend indefinite periods in prison even after a judge has ordered their release because ‘an enforcement order must first be registered with the prosecutor’ which is not easily tracked due to poor case managementI hesitantly asked whether there was a system whereby damages are awarded for cases of false imprisonment and he wearily smiled, “Ah no. No, unfortunately we have nothing like this in Haiti.” Despite this, national and international NGOs are involved in rigorous work to improve the system.

Next week I will be working at the three regional offices where, over a two-day period, I will conduct the seminar and the interviews – it will be busy indeed! However, after a relaxing break in the Dominican Republic over the Christmas holidays (a great chance to first hand compare the other, more developed half of Hispaniola to Haiti), it is nice to get back to it.

Also added to the agenda has been the conception of a new proposal for a pilot project for our education sector, specifically focusing on girls. It will be part of Plan’s Global campaign, ‘Because I am a Girl’, and I’m lucky enough to be writing the concept note under the supervision of my colleague!

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(School girls in a Plan-sponsored school in regional area, Croix-des-Bouquets, before a presentation on gender equality)


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