Demographics: According to the last census in 2003, 51.8% of the Haitian population is made up of women. In urban areas, there are 86 men for every 100 women and, in rural areas there are 98 men for every 100 women. More than half of the 8,730,750 inhabitants are less than 21 years old and only 5% are more than 64 years old. The fertility rate is 4.1 children per female. Life expectancy at birth is 52.7 years for men and 56.8 for women.
Health. Haiti is one of the countries in the world with the highest child, youth and infant mortality rates. Infant mortality dropped from 74 to 57 in the last 20 years and youth mortality rates from 61 to 31. Maternal mortality rates increased from 523 deaths for every 100,000 births from 1994-2000 to 630 deaths for every 100,000 births from 1998 to 2000. In ¾ of these cases, women had home births. The rate of women living with HIV/AIDS in the 15-49 age range is estimated to be 2.3%, which is slightly higher than that of men of the same age range (2.0%). The prevalence according to gender is 115 infected women for every 100 men.
Education. The literacy rate is much higher for men than for women: 63.8% for men as opposed to 58.3% for women. For the population over 5 years of age, 37.4% have never gone to school, 35.2% completed primary school, and 21.5% finished secondary school. There is no substantive difference between basic completion of schooling between girls and boys at the primary level. However, completion of the secondary school level drops to 37% for girls as compared to a 45% completion rate for boys. Only 1.1% (1.4% of men compared to 0.7% of women) attend university.
Economy: For the population over the age of 15 years old, 54% make up the country's workforce. For the population ten (10) years and older, the rate is 47.7%. Broken down by gender, the rate of those in the workforce for the population 15 years and older is 65.5% for men and 46.4% for women. More women (59.3%) than men (42.1%) make up the non-working population. Regardless of where they live, females are still the majority in "wholesale and retail" markets, including 69.2% in urban areas and 88.0% in rural areas. Regardless of the occupation and environment, women are less represented than men, except in the "independent" and "family assistance" categories in urban areas. Throughout the country, 44% of all households are female-headed. Added to the weight of women's single parenting is the phenomenon of matrifocality.
Politics: From 1986 to 1990, one or two females per government were heads of departments or secretaries of State such as Social Affairs, National Education, and Health. In 2007, four women were senators, four were MPs and two were ministers.
Legal issues: Although Haiti ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the current Constitution calls for equality between mean and women, what has been set out does not always become written law. As a result, women' objective situation is that they are ignored, particularly where common law unions are concerned. The Civil Code only recognizes marriage while in actual fact the large majority of people living together are consensual (55% versus 44.5% for legal marriage). More women are involved in these kinds of relationships (56.8% of females compared to 54.1% of men).
Women's organizations have made progress in the sense that rape was put under the title of "indecent assault" and is now classified under "sexual assault". In fact, new sentencing provisions and strengthened penalties must be implemented to discourage rapists.
During 2007, the Minister of the Status of Women and Women's Rights proposed three draft bills: a bill on the parent-child relationship and the admissibility of paternity hearings; a bill on the status of concubines (plaçage), a bill on the regulation of domestic work. Bills on the partial decriminalization of abortion and criminal law legislation on violence against women are all being developed.
There is no longer any question about Haitian women's participation in the struggle for national liberation. History does not give due justice to women such as: Marie Claire Heureuse Dessalines, Sanite Belair, Catherine Flon, Henriette St-Marc, Dédé Babile, Marie Jeanne, Toya, Cecile Fatima, Suzanne Louverture, Marie Louise and many others who defended the principles of freedom, sometimes risking their own lives for national independence. The political and social involvement of women in Haiti arrived, therefore, quite a bit before international women's movements that started at the beginning of the 19th century.
The year 1934 was an important turning point in the struggle for women's equality. It saw the creation of the Women's Social Action League (Ligue Féminine d'Action Sociale) whose main objectives were ensuring civil and political equality for all Haitians (men and women) with regard to political, voting, and eligibility rights. The existence of the League led to the 1950 decision of the Haitian State to recognize women's voting rights and their right to be political candidates; these rights were exercised for the first time only in 1957. Following this first legal battle, the feminist movement went undercover with the rise of the Duvalier family's tyrannical leadership in 1964.
Another turning point in the evolution of the status of women movement in Haiti occurred in 1986. Women's mobilization was a defining element of the Haitian socio-political landscape. A historical demonstration organized by women was held on 3 April 1986 during which they reaffirmed their refusal of being excluded and showed that they were not willing to accept a democracy being built without them or built at their expense.
The military coup in September 1991 marked the beginning of a period of repression for women. Nevertheless, women's networks stayed alive, going underground from the beginning. Women paid a very heavy price during this period during which cruelty extended to using rape as a weapon of terror and repression.
In 2003-2004, women's organizations that were part of the National Women's Rights Advocacy Coordinating Committee (Coordination nationale de plaidoyer pour les droits des femmes or CONAP), joined with unions, political organizations, students and other sectors of civil society to collectively declare the Lavalas government to be acting above the law.
Lavalas' bridages created a climate in which women's organizations that denounced the abuses of the powers that be were threatened both verbally and physically. On 8 March 2003, International Women's Day, police and the militia (chimères) suppressed women's organizations; the more militant actors were arrested and kidnapped. Women's organizations were subject to similar kinds of repression by Lavalas' henchmen right up until Aristide's fall from power in February 2004.
The chronic political instability in Haiti has not give the women's movement, which was very promising at the fall of the Duvalier government, much of an opportunity to prove itself. The creation of the Department of the Status of Women and Women's Rights (MCFDF) and, in particular, its survival has helped women's organizations mobilize themselves. According to article 22, from the Order-in-Council of 22 December 2005, the MCFDF is the national mechanism responsible for "creating and applying, setting and ensuring compliance with the government's policy by working to create an egalitarian society for both sexes; to orient the definition and execution of fair national public policy."
The MCFDF used the transition period (2004-2006) to reinforce its institutional, organizational, and operational structures; to develop civil society consultation mechanisms, particularly to connect with women's organizations and create partnerships with international organizations and NGOs; to finalize bills that should soon be presented to the new parliament. The MCFDF should also think about creating a structure that would allow it to quickly and coherently address the issue of violence against women. Under its leadership, a "gender" working group has been formed under the Interim Cooperation Framework (Cadre de cooperation internationale or CCI in French) sectorial group.
In fact, the fragile political and socio-economic situation in the country created conditions favourable to increased violence and crime (rape and kidnapping). Data collected by organizations such as Gheskio, Kay Fanm and Sofa show that reported cases of sexual violence have seen a rapid increase over the past few years. Underage girls are more and more often becoming victims and gang rape is increasingly prevalent. Organizations working in the field can only provide limited responses because, among other things, the challenges involved in documenting and recording actual cases, the technical, financial institutional inadequacies, the lack of coordination between the involved bodies, the non-existent bills negotiated between women's organizations and the 46th Parliament, the fact that few sectors outside women's organizations take up this challenge.
In order to respond in a structured and efficient way to the phenomenon of violence against women, and sexual violence in particular, the MCFDF led, with the support of International Cooperation Agencies, representatives of the State, civil society, and international agencies a framework to harmonize national efforts. This strategy was supported by the United Nations, Canadian cooperation, and South-South cooperation (Brazil). The objectives of the National Plan to Address Violence against Women were to put in place a data collection system, to prevent violence specifically targeted at women, to increase coordination of care and support services, and to reinforce the capacity of involved public institutions to fully take on their coordination role with civil society. The National Forum against Violence against Women (Concertation Nationale contre les violences faites aux femmes) developed a basic toolkit to prevent violence against women, to victims and their families and to provide overall care for victims (medical protocol, a sample medical certificate, content to train caregivers, communications tools, etc).
Four strategies were included:
Promote and reinforce partnerships between involved departments, civil society organizations and the different international cooperation agencies;
Establish mechanisms for national action with levels of national, departmental, and regional coordination;
Reinforce information and knowledge in the area of violence against women and emphasize the value of including violence against women as a full Human Rights violation; and
Promote and combine a multi-sectoral approach that includes other international or regional partners with a view to better coordinating intervention and maximizing results.
The stability of women's organizations within the National Women's Rights Advocacy Coordinating Committee (Coordination nationale de plaidoyer pour les droits des femmes or CONAP), the existence of the MCFDF (which is responsible for implementing policies on equal rights and promoting women's rights), the presence of a National Plan against Violence against Women are all structures that should assist in implementing national policies on the promotion of women's rights.
The fact that these priorities were codified in the 2007 National Strategy Document on Growth and Poverty Reduction (Document de Stratégie Nationale pour la Croissance et pour la Réduction de la Pauvreté, DSNCRP in French) is very significant. It appears to indicate that the present government and the international community are aware of the intricate links between stabilization, gender equality, and sustainable development. The women's movement could also be a driving force to ensure the implementation of the entire DSNCRP, which is required in order to move from temporary stabilization to inclusive and sustainable development.