Women's Rights versus Inequality: Jacqueline's story

Friday, January 20, 2017 - 14:30

A lot has been written about the richest 1% who own half of the world’s wealth, or the 80 or so people who have more capital than 3 billion of the world’s poorest. But what isn’t being talked about, are the group of people who are being exploited to sustain those with money and power – women.

Across the world, women’s economic, political and social potential continues to be used and abused to prop up male driven and male dominated economies. In developing countries, women could be $9 trillion better off if their pay and access to paid work were equal to that of men. Women continue to do the majority of work that is unpaid in the house, are often subject to an abuse of rights to land, and social norms continue to discourage women’s access to decision making.

As the world’s most powerful gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, people from across the world are joining the movement to fight inequality and to stand up for women like Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Frequiere Morette is a community leader of ActionAid partner organisation The Association of United Women of Pouly (AFUP), a grassroots organization dedicated to mobilizing women to challenge the powers that see women overworked and undervalued.

Here’s her story:

 

In the community of Pouly, in the Central Plateau region of Haiti, things are hard for women where I live.

Most rural women in Pouly are entirely dependent on men to survive. If women are left land in a family member’s will, most men assume it is ‘they,’ who should inherit the land. It has become such common practice for men to inherit land, that even my own mother didn’t think that my name should be on the titles to land I rightfully own; she thought it should be my husband’s name on the papers. Over the years, women have become used to being second class citizens. They might believe they can own cows or livestock, but they don’t believe they have the right to have their names on legal titles. This places money and power directly in the hands of men.

But access to land is just one of the many forms of inequality that women in my community face.

Husbands don’t realise how much time women spend looking after the house and the family. Not only do women not get remunerated, but men feel that their work has no value. Their work is invisible. Women are tired - they have to cook, clean, tend to the garden and get the children to school, but they don’t have time to rest and that stops them from being able to do other things such as becoming educated or earning their own money.

Our village Pouly doesn’t have any health care facilities and it is women who are the most vulnerable. I once saw a pregnant woman dying in a wooden bed that was being carried down from the mountains. She had complications with her pregnancy and died on route to the nearest hospital in Lascohobas., 6km away.  Other women don’t even make it down to Pouly and die up the mountains.

Over the years, women’s rights have started to become a talking point for government and decision makers in Haiti. For example the government issued a decree so that perpetrators of violence against women should be punished. Another decree was passed to place a 30% quota of women in all levels of public decision-making. However, saying and doing are two different things. So until the recent election far there was not one single female MP in parliament (now there are 4, out of 106!), and violence against women is still routine; with little or no action taken against the male perpetrators. 

In 2014, the Haitian Ministry for Women’s Affairs produced a ‘six year plan for equality,’ but from the start the plan was exclusive to rich and powerful. The plan is written in French; but as most of the people who need this plan can only speak Kreyol, there has been little accountability to implement the gender focused polices. Women and girls in poverty usually have less chance to go to school, and if they do go, they won’t stay long enough to learn French. Sadly, French is the language of bureaucracy in Haiti and acts as a barrier to keep the majority of people out of decision-making.

With a lack of concrete action, we realised women should be sorting out our own problems and must create our own opportunities - so we started our women’s group.

I’m the coordinator and founding member of AFUP, the Association of United Women of Pouly. It started with just 10 women pooling our resources; today we now have 50 regular members. Our main purpose is to increase women’s economic independence through agriculture and to transform the agricultural produce we grow into products that we can sell.

We started working with ActionAid about nine years ago when they supported us to produce peanuts and process them into peanut butter and to raise cattle to help plough the land. In 2015, ActionAid helped us build a cassava mill and bought the machinery so we can turn manioc into cassava bread. By delivering training sessions, women in the community have come to understand the technical and business side of agricultural production which has helped the women produce better quality goods and earn more money.

For those women who have no land, we have rented them space on our land for a minimal fee so they can start growing their own produce. For example, one woman wanted to grow peppers but her husband wouldn’t support her new business venture so we helped her out with seedlings. She ended up growing enough peppers that she made enough money to buy some cows. Now her husband is encouraging her to attend our women’s group meetings and their entire relationship and power dynamic has changed.

Some of the other women in our group can now pay for their children’s education or for professional training. One woman in our group, Carole St Naël, is training to be a nursery school teacher with the money she’s made from growing peanuts.

AFUP isn’t just about developing economic independence for the women of Pouly; to create real change, we need to change the system. We often invite the local authorities to attend our meetings so they can hear the problems women face, to try to get them to commit to act. They tell us their power is limited but they do listen and say they will try to put our demands to people in central government with more power.

Over the years we have seen some positive changes. There has been some progress when women have been victims of violence, they can go to court and the case now has a chance of progressing and punishing the perpetrator. Even though we know the justice system has a lot of problems, things are different from the past when women didn’t report violence at all.

I’m proud of AFUP and how it’s grown. It’s not only what the women have achieved for themselves but their activities have helped the entire community. AFUP is a way for us to organise, and when we organise we can do things we wouldn’t be able to do alone.

Being part of the AFUP women’s group has helped me develop autonomy so I don’t have to depend on my husband.  I can provide for myself, make my own decisions and I dream that other all other women can one day do the same.

 

If you want to join the worldwide movement to fight inequality, go to www.fightinequality.org to find out more.