When I moved to New York, I started challenging everything I grew up knowing in Haiti. Since I am a young girl living alone in a different country, I had to grow up quickly and this made me challenge my perception of the world.
I started questioning the mentality of my country and I realized Haitians live under oppression. Then I started wondering what the thing that oppressed my dear nation was. I realized that is was the fact that Haitians still live in the old days when women stayed at home to cook and clean the house. Surprisingly enough, I was not happy with my observation.
For once, I could see with my own eyes rather than seeing what I was told to see. Day by day, I noticed my passion for this issue grow and I realized that I wanted to make a change rather than only vent on the issue of male dominance. The feminist in me rushed out of me and took control of my mentality. I want the Haitian population to view all genders equally rather than wanting to oppress one gender. To turn my dream into reality, my desire is to intern at Yele Haiti, so that I can teach young girls that their job doesn’t start and end in the kitchen.
Yele Haiti is an organization that helps rebuild Haiti by aiming at the youth and I believe that in the reconstruction of Haiti, gender equality has to be included. I want to show young girls that there is a big world outside waiting for them. In the same way, I want to give a new mind-set to young boys that all genders are equal, so that they can be the new generation who sees women as equal rather than maintaining the oppression of women.
If Haiti understood its role in the “girl effect” the situation of the country would be different. Studies show that countries that are in poverty do not have a lot of educated women. Why, one might ask? Well the girls are brought up as being less than men and that all of them have one destiny: to get married and populate the world. At a young age, girls are sexually active and they sometimes end up selling their bodies.
However the “girl effect” challenges that. It wants poor girls to go to school, not get married or have children until they are ready. By staying in school, the girls avoid being sexual active without their consent and without contracting sexually transmitted diseases. The girls grow up to be successful. This routine stays alive in the family. Girls would start having someone to look up to.
Like Virginia Woolf talks about in A Room of One’s Own, women are not known to have a lot of precedents, because there were a lot of restrictions made on them. Most women do not have power or even a place in society, so it’s harder for them to wake up and decide to do something with their lives if they do not have someone to look up to from the past or present. However, I am not saying that we should be followers, or that we should wait for people to do something, but I think it’s easier for people to follow a precedent.
As I was reading A History of U.S. Feminisms by Rory Dicker, I remember thinking to myself that not once have I read about a woman in the history of Haiti and here I am reading a book containing the different steps and difficulties American women went through to be were they are right now. To my knowledge, there were no women such as Sojourner Truth asking, “Ain’t I a woman?” in Haiti’s history.
The issue of male dominance in Haiti starts right at the beginning. The only time that the history books mention a woman, she is represented doing what women do best: sewing. At least she was sewing something important, the Haitian flag.
I remember when I learned in class–for maybe fifteen minutes–that a woman once governed Haiti. Herta Pascal-Trouillot was her name. This class was probably the shortest class ever. And yet, it was fascinating to me how a woman could have had so much power in Haiti. I remember how no one even talked about it after class. For once, there had been a precedent for Haitian women, but as children, we were not brought up to look up to her. I even forgot about her. I had to do some research to trigger my memory, and even there, the research did not help.
Trouillot is not remembered as the first woman to be president of Haiti, but as the woman who was always well-dressed and well put. This makes me very angry, because it shows that even in power, it was all a joke for Haitians. They did not really care about what she had to say. In that way, I came to realize that Haiti does not care about what women have to say. I realized that women could try with all their might, but men will still not listen. I’m reminded of a moment where in the documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words, Gloria Steinem says, “I work really hard, but [some people think the rewards] are attributed to my looks. That’s really painful.”
This could have been a time in my life when I would’ve given up and just followed the wave of women’s oppression in Haiti and even enforced misogyny myself, like I was brought up to do. But I realized that as the Combahee River Collective states: “We have a great deal of criticism for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress.” In Haiti, to the contrary of the US, no one is revolting to the ways of men. They are only accepting it and do not dream of the day, when their decisions as women, will solely be based on their free will or desire.
This situation in Haiti might be bigger than me, but I will never know if Haitian women want to change their environment if someone never brings it up. Like Audre Lorde says in “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions,” I want to “help effect change toward a liveable future.”
Everyone has a fight, this is mine.