Below are a few key turning points in Haiti ’s historical timeline.
V-Day encourages you to access its recommended reading/film list to further educate yourself about the important history of Haiti and its vibrant culture, which, throughout, has been steered forward by countless Haitians who have sought justice for their people:
First inhabited by the native Taino, Arawak, and Caribe Indians who called the land Ayiti, or ‘flower of high land’.
1492 - Christopher Columbus lands and names the island Hispaniola, or Little Spain.
1697 - Haiti becomes the French colony of Saint-Dominique, a leading sugarcane producer dependent on the labor and lives of slaves.
1801 - Insurrection erupts among the slave population of 480,000, resulting in a declaration of independence by Pierre-Dominique Toussaint l'Ouverture.
1804 - Despite Napoleon Bonaparte ’s attempts at suppression, the independence movement eventually triumphed under Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic.
1915: 3000 US Marines enter Port-au-Prince, beginning the 19-year United States occupation of Haiti.
1957: The dictatorship of Francois Duvalier aka ‘Papa Doc’ and his secret police, the ‘Tontons Macoutes’, rings in a brutal time for the Haitian people.
1971-1986: His son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka ‘Baby Doc’, succeeds as ruler.
1980s: Haiti faces AIDS epidemic; by 2000, Haiti - through the hard work of organized groups and government support - reduces the number of infections in half.
1991: Jean Bertrand Aristide, a populist priest, becomes the first democratically elected president. After a few months, he is deposed in a military coup. He returns as president in 1994 and is succeeded by R éne Pr é val in 1996.
The US invaded Haiti in 1915 and stayed on the ground until 1934, maintaining fiscal control until 1947.
While American infrastructure improvements - from more roads to cleaner water in cities - helped Haiti, the period was mostly devastating for the Haitian nation. The US took upwards of 40% of the national income to pay back debt owed by Haiti to foreign banks, and America basically ran Haiti through the US Marine Corps, which undid Haiti ’s constitutional system, gave the US complete veto power over governmental decisions, and established the National Guards, who brutally ran the country after the Marines left, killing many resisters.
While the US officially pulled out of Haiti by the mid-1940s, the US ’s economic and political policies are still having a destructive impact today. Illustrating this point, Bill Quigley, the legal director for the Center of Constitutional Rights noted: “….in the last century, the United States supported dictator after dictator, and the elected officials, we supported the coups that knocked them out. We have kept the country dependent. We have kept the country militarized. And we kept the country impoverished. We have dumped our excess rice, our excess farm produce and that stuff on the country, thereby undercutting the small farmers who would make up the backbone of the place.”
Haitian women have had an incredible impact on shaping
Haitian society, organizing for justice throughout its history.
Beverly Bell in A History of Haitian Women ’s Involvement (International
Women ’s Day Part 11), outlines some key historical moments:
The 1792 participation of Cecile Fatiman in the ceremony that sparked revolution against the French.
The work of Marie Jeanne, Sanite Belair, Marie Claire Heureuse, and many courageous women like them unknown by history, who played pivotal roles in the independence movement.
A 1930 demonstration by Haitian women against the U.S. occupation, which had Marines on the ground beginning in 1915.
The work of the Feminine League for Social Action and other groups in the in the 1930s to gain rights for Haitian women: the right to run for office (1944) and right to vote (1950). Bell points that women did not truly gain the full benefits of the ballot until 1990, due to corruption in the political system.
From Beverly Bell ’s A History of Haitian Women’s Involvement (International
Women ’s Day Part 11), some key historical moments (continued):
Bell points out that it took until 1965, during the Duvalier dictatorship (when all women ’s rights were put at risk across economic barriers) for poor women and women from higher economic strata to come together in their struggle for women’s rights. Until this point, poor women had been largely left out of the movement or benefited from it.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a women's rights movement began to expand in Haiti as, at the same time, women in the Haitian Diaspora began to be influenced by women ’s movements abroad. Immediately following Duvalier’s departure in 1986, women took to the streets, demanding justice.
In the 1980s, the first women ’s shelter was opened in Haiti.
Over the past decade, new coalitions such as the National Coalition to Advocate the Rights of Women (CONAP), the National Coalition against Violence against Women, and the National Coalition of Peasant Women (KONAFAP) have brought women across the movement together.
Today, a vibrant women ’s movement exists in Haiti which has played a pivotal role in responding to the impact of the 2010 earthquake and its aftermath.
Historically, rape has been used widely by outside forces who have laid claim to Haiti ’s people and resources, and by regimes, who have sought to silence women’s power.
Alex Renton wrote in his 2007 piece The Rape Epidemic :
“ Rape's entry in any honest history of Haiti is a long one. Columbus' men raped and murdered the indigenous tribes they found when they landed on Hispaniola in 1492; French planters used the slaves they shipped from Africa for sex; and when those slaves threw out the French and declared the first Republic, rape and murder accompanied the event. In the 200 years since then, Haiti has seen nearly half its 60-odd heads of state overthrown or assassinated - and sexual violence has been a feature of most of that turmoil.”
As Anne Fuller writes about violence against women in Haiti, “….since violence against women has begun to be accepted as a human rights concern, popular opposition to it has grown, human rights organizations have moved to adopt it as an issue, and the state has come under pressure to make reforms.” Yet, despite the important work of activists, violence against women in Haiti was widespread before the earthquake:
The UNDP has reported that Haiti has one of the highest rates of women affected by violence in the world.
According to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 90% of Haitian women have experienced violence.
World Bank figures estimate that 70% of Haitian women have been affected by some kind of violence, either domestic or public. These figures have increased in the past years, according to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
In 2001 Myriam Merlet, Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Women ’s Condition and Rights and founder of the umbrella National Coordination for Advocacy on Women's Rights (CONAP), contacted V-Day to organize a large production of The Vagina Monologues in Port au Prince. Due to political instability at that time, the show never took place but Myriam and V-Day continued to talk about making it a reality.
In 2007, upon being invited, Eve traveled to Haiti to meet with Myriam and local activists.
There were three sold out performances of The Vagina Monologues in Port Au Prince and another in Cap Haitian, which 500 people attended.
Following Eve ’s trip, V-Day partnered with Myriam and Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, the Minister of Women's Affairs and Rights, to open the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House in Port au Prince, a long-term safe house for women. Opened in July 2008, the facility provided shelter, comprehensive medical, legal and psychological support to 40 women at a time from Port-au-Prince and rural areas of Haiti.
Unfortunately, the January 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti rendered the Safe House uninhabitable. Tragically, V-Day activist Myriam Merlet was killed in the earthquake. Her loss, and that of fellow women ’s rights activists Anne Marie Coriolan and Magalie Marcelin, is a huge loss for the women’s movement in Haiti and the world over.
While women have spoken of widespread rape in the IDP camps and the fear of being attacked, data on the full number of sexual assaults that have occurred since the earthquake to date is unavailable.
By March 2010, KOFAVIV, the Commission of Women Victim-to-Victim, had tracked 230 rapes in 15 camps in Port-au-Prince.
Médecins Sans Frontières reported 68 cases of rape in the month of April 2010 at one of their clinics in Port-au-Prince.
A recent Refugees International report that was published in October 2010 states that cases of rape on children as young as 10 years old have tripled in Haiti since January 2010, as have the number of abortions for this age group. It also reports heightened gang-related violence, as well as reports of women being forced to trade sex for food.
As human rights lawyer Jane Flemming reported from the ground, many survivors of rape are afraid to report to police; for the few who do, their rapists are prosecuted at a lower than 2% rate. Haitian women lawyers are working to change this reality so that more women use legal avenues available to them and justice is reached. V-Day ’s campaign will be addressing this issue.
As a first step in planning its Spotlight on Haiti, V-Day supported a two-day gathering of 67 survivors and activists in July, 2010. Lawyers and women ’s rights activists representing 30 grassroots organizations from across Haiti came together to discuss what needed to be done to address gender-based-violence in post-earthquake Haiti. Following the meeting, they presented V-Day with a proposal for a campaign, which V-Day committed to supporting.
Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% living in abject poverty.
Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation.
In May 2011, Michel Martelly took office as the President of Haiti.
With AFASDA, a women ’s rights group with a long track record of innovative work based in Cap Haitian, V-Day is engaging in a country-wide campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence and serve women through three shelters in Northern Haiti, with legal aid and advocacy.
V-Day will also help produce performances of “The Vagina Monologues” in IDP camps in Port au Prince and provide legal support to the women there.
Lastly, V-Day will provide support to grassroots organizations around Haiti doing awareness-raising work.