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Women are the Backbone of Haiti's Economy
By Mina Remy
April 23rd, 2014
Women, and rural women in particular, are the backbone of Haiti and its economy. They farm, harvest, and transport their produce to local markets where they in turn sell it. They do all of this despite little-to-no support from the government and without the necessary agricultural infrastructure to ease their burden.
I witnessed this firsthand as I crossed one tributary after another (by foot !) to get to peasant women’s farms in Haiti’s North Department during site visits with the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA), a Grassroots International partner, last July. With hurricane alerts a looming threat, I followed these women down muddy paths to their farms with dread. As I silently prayed that these women could start a campfire (I definitely can’t), I breathed easier knowing they were at least well equipped with machetes in case we became stranded.
I spent three amazing days with PAPDA learning about its work with women in the North, specifically in Plaisance and Limonade. In Plaisance PAPDA works with the local chapter of Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA), a national organization with chapters peppered throughout Haiti. In addition to their work with SOFA national, PAPDA provides direct support to the Plaisance chapter.
During my visit in Plaisance, I saw goats and cows purchased with PAPDA’s assistance and lovingly cared for by their owners. As we discussed farming and animal husbandry, SOFA members Clotilde and Roseline explained, “Livestock ownership is a lifeline for the women here. We can sell livestock or livestock products, like milk, to take care of our families and ourselves.”
PAPDA has long-supported the Limonade Women's Association for Development (AFLIDEPA) a local women’s organization committed to women’s empowerment through education and support of peasant women and girls. In the past PAPDA has worked with AFLIDEPA to secure usage rights to unused government farm land. PAPDA’s most recent work with AFLIDEPA resulted in the creation of a peanut transformation center, where AFLIDEPA peanut farmers bring their harvest to be turned into peanut butter, a higher valued commodity.
A few things struck me during my time in the field with PAPDA. First, PAPDA’s relationship with these organizations mirrored the relationship between Grassroots International and PAPDA. Namely, it’s grounded in mutual respect and honesty, as well as deference to local solutions from those most affected. As a result, PAPDA is in continuous dialogue with SOFA-Plaisance and AFLIDEPA about interventions based on self-identified needs. Second, women in rural Haiti – like their counterparts throughout the global south – work extremely hard and often under the yoke of deeply rooted patriarchy to support their families. And, finally, if women in rural Haiti were ever to go on strike, the country would come to a grinding halt.
PAPDA’s deep connection to and support of rural communities truly informs its policy work. When it speaks of the dual burdens rural women face as women and farmers, it does so from experiencing their lives in sometimes isolated, infrastructure-less communities.