Women account for over 52 per cent of the total population of Haiti and are very active in the economic and social sectors. Yet their political participation and representation in Parliament is very limited. Only seven of the 144 political parties are headed by women. Women represent less than five per cent of the Haitian parliament, and there are no women at all in the current Senate. Now that the gender quota is included in the amended constitution, what are the best strategies to ensure its effectiveness?
Women's access to decision making positions
As a result of the mobilization of women's organizations, the Constitution of 1987 formally recognized the principle of gender equality. In 2012, the amended Constitution now states in its preamble that ‘the Haitian people proclaim this constitution to ensure women's representation in power and decision bodies which is consistent with gender equality and gender equity’.
Edmonde Beauzile, Former Senator and current head of political party FUSION
Articles 17.1 and 31.1.1 read as follows: ’the principle of quota of at least thirty percent (30%) of women is recognized at all levels of national life, especially in public services ‘ and, ‘ any political party law must reserve in its structures and working mechanisms treatment in accordance with the principle of quota of at least thirty percent (30%) of women’. This represents progress towards greater representation of women in positions of power and decision making. However, implementing legislation is still lacking.
In 2012 municipal councils comprised 48.5% women, and there were 45% in the regional councils. The current government has 6 women out of 19; the Electoral Council has four women out of nine; and the Superior Council of the Judiciary has nine members, including one woman. It is quite different for elected positions in local government, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. In the 49th Legislature there are only five women out of 99 in the lower house and no woman in the upper chamber. So gender quotas can be put to good use in elected positions.
Challenges to women's political participation
Mirlande Manigat, Executive Secretary of the party: Rassemblement des Démocrates Nationaux Progressistes (RDNP) and former candidate for the presidency
Despite women’s right to participate equally in democratic governance, they are under-represented. Beyond the barriers to the patriarchal system, level of education, poverty, political practice within political parties is a challenge for women.
In Haiti, the exercise of leadership within political parties is complicated for women because of self-censorship based on tradition; and because they are often relegated to secondary roles by party heads (who are mostly men).
IDEA’s work in favor of quotas for political parties
If progress is to be achieved, political parties are key places to start. This is because they can either hinder or promote the selection of women into decision making positions within political parties, or as candidates in winnable positions on the electoral lists. They also play an important role in the skills development and training of candidates.
Aware of this, IDEA spent 2013 and 2014 working exclusively with women members of political parties. Two approaches have been prioritized: one that involves working with the parties themselves to help them apply the gender quota to their own internal mechanisms; and a second approach that involves working directly with women to help find solutions to bolster their presence and voice in parties.
The importance of strengthening the leadership and capacity of women within parties
Marie-France Claude, head of PDCH
By choosing to work directly with these women, IDEA supports them to jointly identify appropriate solutions to overcome barriers to their active participation in politics. Training has covered how to participate in the parliamentary process; and also, for example, how the different quota mechanisms work and can be applied.
Most importantly, IDEA facilitates networking between women so that they can break the sense of isolation they face when they choose to engage in politics. ‘We appreciate the work done by IDEA allowing women to come together and jointly tackle the barriers to their massive accession in elective positions. This is one of the few organizations to do this work in the country ‘ said Marie-Claude France, Head of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party (PDCH) in a workshop conducted by IDEA on 20 November 2013 attended by nearly 100 women members and party leaders.
Equal representation of women in decision making, especially in elected positions, is an important issue. Provisions included in the amended constitution, the electoral law and in the rules of political parties are a major step forward in applying the gender quota. The next elections will provide the opportunity to assess how effective this has been.
By targeting women members of political parties, it is clear that IDEA’s work will help strengthen their leadership capabilities and enable them to take the lead in the push for gender quotas to be respected. Progress is real, but the challenges are also big. What IDEA has already accomplished is important but what remains to be done is huge.
To repeat the words of the head of IDEA’s Haiti team, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, while she was advocating for the inclusion of the quota in the amended constitution: ‘Hopefully one day, with the quota, women will be quite numerous in quality and quantity in the areas of power and decision-making [...] The quota will open the doors , slowly but it will certainly happen’.
After the collapse of the Duvalier (father and son) dictatorships in 1986, women’s rights groups fought hard for the adoption of measures promoting women's access to all services.
Despite some legislative progress in the promotion of women's rights in Haiti, inequality remains striking. Poverty is experienced more by women, to the point where we now talk about the ‘feminization of poverty.’ According to the 2008 CEDAW report, the rate of unemployment for females population is 60.7% as opposed to the national rate of 30%. In terms of health, women continue to pay a heavy price at childbirth. According to WHO (2010), maternal mortality stood at 350/100000, the highest in the region.
When it comes to education, significant efforts have been made in recent years towards parity at the primary level, but retention is a major problem at upper levels of schooling, resulting in a female literacy rate of 48%, significantly lower than for males (61%).