Haiti – Feminist Series 4, In conversation with Flaurantin Marie Enise
Jalouzi is a hillside neighborhood of about 200,000 people overlooking lower Petion-Ville. It is accessible from two roads, one at the top and one below. The view from the top is stunning. From here you can see Port-au-Prince looking east to the sea and north to the mountains. The only way to travel is by foot through a series of alley ways and narrow paths of gravel, stones or the occasional step, and for those like myself who are challenged by gravel and stones on sloppy paths, difficult to negotiate. Flaurantin lives midway where in addition to her home she has a small meeting room and clinic for dispensing over the counter medication. She also runs a small kiosk on the lower Jalouzi road. The following are excerpts from conversations over the past 6 weeks between myself and Flaurantin and which are published with her permission. Originally from Jacmel she began her community work in 1990.
I started working in the community in 1990 working with women. We had a small school and mobile clinic where we would offer support and medicines to families. Sadly I had to leave to come to Port-au-Prince 15 years ago with my husband and children. I would love to return to Jacmel and even now there are women waiting for me to return but unfortunately my house was destroyed so it is not possible. The community of Jalouzi is extremely poor with some of the most vulnerable women and children. In 1999 I decided to start the organization Le Phare [meaning Light] so I could participate in my community by providing support and education to women and children and yes everybody who needs my help. [FME]
Le Phare is now part of the SOPUDEP community and the micro-credit project, Fanm SOPUDEP en Aksyon [FASA]. FASA began in March 2010 after the earthquake. Rea Dol of SOPUDEP had been using donations to buy and distribute food and supplies to women however she saw that this was just not sustainable. The next money she received she called a meeting with a group of women and explained they had a choice. Buy food with the money or try something more long term and sustainable such as a micro-finance scheme. Everyone agreed on the latter and FASA cooperative was born. Le Phare then became part of the SOPUDEP and FASA family. Flaurantin is the Jalouzi sector coordinator which has 75 active members. It is also in Jalouzi that FASA recently opened a store for the programme. They buy food in bulk and each week the women collect supplies to sell in the market. Recently police have been driving street traders off the streets of Petion-Ville where all of the Jalouzi women sell their market.
More than 20 of our members were affected by these raids. They lost all their market, everything. If they cannot sell on the streets in Petion-Ville what are they supposed to do? Now each day the women go on the streets to try and sell but it is hard as they have to hide all the time from the police. It is too much stress but there is no other way to feed themselves.
As well as the micro-credit programme we now have cooking and sewing classes for young women and we hope this will help the women find ways to generate income once they have completed their training. [FME]
Jalouzi was miraculously not affected by the January 2010 earthquake but nonetheless the residents like in other PAP neighbourhoods, face major challenges such as lack of access to healthcare, food insecurity, unemployment, lack of water and gender based violence. Although there are some 100 matwons [midwives] in the neighborhood, community leaders like Flaurantin find themselves attending to various health crisis, intervening and supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence and generally helping those living in extreme poverty.
I delivered a baby at the weekend and the mother did not even have anything to cover where she was sleeping, it was terrible. The women prefer to deliver their babies at home but there are often problems such as breech birth and pre-eclampsia is a very big for the women as they cannot attend pre natal clinics so those with high blood pressure end up very ill. They are the ones who need emergency treatment but the nearest emergency [free] hospital is the MSF in Delmas 33 which is far from here. There are a lot of women with HIV and recently gonorrhea has become a problem, which if the woman is pregnant can also be passed to the child. [FME]
Whilst many of victims of gender based violence including rape, in the the post earthquake camps, have benefited from interventions by local and international NGOs, neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil and Jalouzi seem to be off the NGO radar and as Flaurantin remarked “The NGOs dont come here. We see them driving up and down in their cars but they never stop”.
We try to give the support for women who have been raped or beaten by their husbands but it is not easy as we do not have any resources only ourselves. There is a lot of domestic violence but rape is not too much. The most difficult thing is getting women to make police reports even where children are the victims and this has happened in our community even recently. We try to educate and it is important to give support and to participate [in the community] to know what is happening. That is all we can do keep talking about the problem. Another problem more often than rape is forced sex in marriage and the women end up getting pregnant over and over which, with the poverty leads to women always being sick. We do advise the women on birth control and there is ‘depo provera’ and one injection lasts for three months. We also have female condoms but these are more expensive than male condoms. One of the forgotten groups of women is the elderly. Of course many are cared for by their families but many either have no family or their families are too poor to care for them. These are probably the most vulnerable with street children – many also live on the streets. It is important that we include them in our work. [FME]
The levels of poverty in neighbourhoods like Jalouzi are massive. The people who live here the cost and consequences of global capitalism and as Mahmood Mamdani states the actions of brutal regimes all over the global south break the backs of the poor in the interest of their imperial masters and capital. And it is poor women who are criminalized, disenfranchised further pushed to the margins of margins having to deal with multiple acts of violences.
Jalouzi sits next to the elite neighbourhood of Petion-Ville but the distance in the reality of lives is a thousand miles. Whilst we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in all manner of ways, its worth considering the question: what we mean by sisterhood, whether global or local.. what does it really mean? In Haiti the media have gone, many of the NGOs and UN agencies are gone and those remaining are scaling down. For them the crisis is over, earthquakes and cholera, stories from yesterday. Voices like Flaurantin’s, which speak to the many violences of poverty but also to the frontline work of women activists and their commitment to movement building, don’t get heard.
A last word from Flaurantin
The levels of poverty are so great [that] sometimes we cannot see our way out, we just survive. But what is good about our organizing is though there is much misery, there is solidarity amongst us. [FME]