Shattering gender roles and showing the way in Haiti

Published: 15 April 2013 11:01 CET

By Lorraine Taggart in Haiti

Last month’s International Women’s Day saw celebrations of the contribution that women and girls have made to the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement across the world.

 In Haiti, the Red Cross society took the initiative and planned several activities such as a workshop on cardiovascular disease, a presentation on women’s roles in the voodoo religion, as well as an exhibition of artwork designed and created by women to commemorate this day.  

The focus for this year’s International Women’s Day was preventing violence against women and girls, a subject that attains added relevance in a post-disaster context.

Women across the country had the opportunity to express themselves and to speak out about how women in Haitian society can become more engaged in community life as well as what roles women can play on the reconstruction of the country after the devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake.

In Haiti women are often the subject of stigmatization and discrimination. Certain jobs are not offered to women simply because of their gender, and many time husbands forbid their wives from accepting certain jobs that are deemed too masculine.

Such was the case for Marie Rachel Preval. Her home was destroyed during the earthquake and she was forced to live in a tent for several months with her 4-year-old son before finally moving into her aunt’s home in Carrefour located in the southern part of Port-au-Prince. In December 2010, she was offered a job with the Red Cross society as a security guard. She accepted it although her husband was against her doing that kind of work and pressured her to quit. To this date she is the only female security guard at Haiti Red Cross Society headquarters in Port-au-Prince.

“Many people asked me why I accepted to take a job like this. A job where I would be surrounded by men all day. My husband told me to quit but I couldn’t because I needed a job to take care of my son.”

Two years later Marie Rachel says that all her co-workers have come to accept her as an equal and she feels very comfortable in her job.

“In this society, women are often mistreated. We shouldn’t listen to people who tell us we can’t do certain things because we are women. I think that we as women are capable of doing anything we want to.”

The organization's beneficiary communications tools were also used to spread messages and awareness concerning International Women’s Day. Text messages were sent nationwide over the Digicel mobile phone network encouraging the population to take part in a survey launched on the Red Cross IVR system. By dialing 733, people  were be able to answer questions on  violence prevention to not only test their knowledge on  the subject but to gain additional knowledge as well.

The Red Cross radio show, known as Radyo KwaWouj, had a special edition of the show which discussed the need for people in society not to discriminate against women who are HIV positive and to understand that they need the same support as any other woman.      

The sound truck was also used to share messages throughout the metropolitan area to raise awareness about International Women’s Day. The messages encouraged the protection of women against violence and the equality for women and girls.

Although the Haiti Red Cross Society actively promotes and encourages the equality of women and the role that they are capable of playing in society, International Women’s Day was another opportunity to emphasize the importance of women in society.