From the beginning of time, women have played a vital role in shaping and upholding high standards for equal rights. They have also overcome the traditional expectations of femininity by inserting themselves in spaces typically reserved for their male counterparts. Perhaps, most notably, are the Haitian women, whose accomplishments are unforgettable.
Marie-Jean Lamartiniere and Suzanne Beliar (whose husband was the nephew of Toussaint Louverture) dressed in male uniforms to serve in the army alongside their husbands. They helped fight for the country’s freedom and put an end to French rule. While these women contributed to the independence of Haiti, it would be years before their female peers could experience freedom from Haitian hegemony.
In the 19th century, journalist and human activist Yvonne Hakim-Rimpel created L’Escale, a feminist newspaper and the first of its kind. She wrote articles denouncing Francois Duvalier’s regime and exposing the fraud he committed to winning the election. In 1935, she was tortured and raped by men when they invaded her home. Their attack was the result of her unapologetic stance against the dictator.
Nevertheless, Rimpel refused to be intimidated and deterred. She and members of her organization, Women’s League of Social Action, published and signed a letter of protest against Duvalier. Despite their efforts, Duvalier continued to rule until the completion of his term. However, Rimpel’s courage and resistance did not go unnoticed by the female populace.
Maryse Vieux-Chauvet, who shared Rimpel’s ideals, wrote the book “Amour, Colere, Folie,” a feminist perspective on Duvalier’s dictatorship. His regime banned the book, and fearing for her life, Chauvet went into exile in 1973. In 2005, after her untimely death, the book was published and eventually translated and introduced to the American market.
In the early 90s, it became clear that the feminist movement had influenced women’s agency and power in Haiti. So much so that Ertha Pascal-Trouillot became the country’s first female president. Trouillot’s rise to the highest office began after receiving her law degree and serving as the first woman justice of the Supreme Court of Haiti. Although her presidency was provisional, Trouillot was honored for the opportunity despite the challenges of institutionalized patriarchy and the structural oppression of women. She declared, “I have accepted this heavy task in the name of Haitian women.”
Today, Haitian women and girls continue to fight for equal opportunities, particularly for women with darker complexions. They are also taking a stand against gender-based violence and sexual abuse while making strides in education, sports, entertainment, and more. May we always champion these women – past, present, and future – for their fierce audacity and tenacity to impact lives and change Haiti for the better.
By Ifonia Jean
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