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Women Celebrate International Women's Day

From Haiti Info,
Vol. 3, no. 11, 11 March 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 8 - Numerous women's groups today celebrated International Women's Day with declarations, an official program at the National Palace, a concert, protests and delegation visits.

The activities stood in stark contrast to last March, when women as well as men could not hold demonstrations and only rarely and with much precaution speak out.

History of International Women's Day

It is interesting and relevant to remember the historical roots of March 8. In 1910 during the Congress of International Socialist Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin, a German revolutionary, proposed March 8 as the day to commemorate women in their struggle for equality and social progress. The congress adopted the proposal. The date is in remembrance of the first big demonstration of American women textile workers on March 8, 1857, who were demanding better living and working conditions. The demonstration ended in a violent confrontation with repressive forces.

Today, most of the time, this anniversary is the occasion for demagogic celebration, for recuperating and confusing maneuvers from people who have nothing to do with the original spirit and nature of this date, which has not changed and which, in this time of neoliberalism and capitalism, is more actual than ever. The combat for women's liberation is tightly linked to the combat for social justice, economic progress and the end of exploitation.

Haiti: Ministry's Celebrations

Yesterday, Minister of the Feminine Condition and Women's Rights Lise Marie Dejean declared March Month of the Rights of Women and announced a series of activities for Wednesday. The ministry put up banners in the streets and sponsored a radio publicity campaign announcing a celebration with music, speeches and posters listing demands. Dejean noted that the Aristide government is the first to recognize the importance of women by creating a ministry and also filling so many government posts with women.

We will celebrate March 8 and put a special accent on it because we want to remember all women's battles since the women's movement began, Dejean said.

Today, a delegation from the ministry, along with many other delegations - women from poor neighborhoods, socio-professional organizations, and other groups - met at the palace and listened to speeches before eating lunch together.

Former Minister of Information Marie-Laurence Lassegue, now a member of the Provisional Electoral Council, represented the socio-professional sector. She stressed the commonality of women's problems and violence against women. Dejean noted the need for women to organize and asked for people to remember all patriots who fell, all women who fell... to put Haiti on the rails of democracy.

President Aristide told the assembly that he knew women were suffering, and told them: I understand. I know very well what is happening. Hang in there. He noted that last year they would never have imagined they would be in the palace, and that, in the same way, someday you will be living in your own house that you will have because we are on a good road.

In the afternoon, Dejean led a delegation of about 200 women and some men from popular organizations to the border to meet with delegates from women's groups in the Dominican Republic. After singing the two national anthems and feminist songs, women spoke about the problems they are facing in their communities. Also yesterday afternoon, racine or roots bands played in front of the ministry building (the former army headquarters), but only 500 or 1,000 people attended.

Earlier in the day and also yesterday, a group of women vendors protested in front of the ministry, saying it has not answered their demands for reparations for lost merchandise and that they do not agree with the way the ministry is receiving people.

Organizations and Parties Speak Out

Many political parties also marked March 8. As the June elections loom, parties rushed to get press releases on the air. The women's branch of KONAKOM saluted women, notably women who are members of KONAKOM, who are sympathizers of KONAKOM! KID asked all women in Haiti to engage more in the political battle for change.

At health clinics, on radio stations, at schools and other institutions, women organized sensitization sessions around issues like violence in the home, violence during the coup, the continued high cost of living and the problem of economic survival.

Despite the air of celebration at the palace, most women went about their days' activities as usual, scrambling to earn a few dollars to support their families and themselves. Sitting in front of posters with themes for the day, one woman at the Carrefours- Feuilles Klinik Fanm said: I am happy the day went well, but I still have my problems.

Like the woman at the clinic, many women are noting that there is a connection between violence and oppression against women and the exploitation in general in society.

FANM ETNO, a new group at the Faculty of Ethnology, organized a conference on Saturday to discuss the women's movement and the university. Among the subjects touched on by the speakers was criticism of the women's ministry, in part for raising the hopes of women with promises and rhetoric when it, as well as the entire government, is doing little to address the root causes of oppression and exploitation.

A Day for Reflection

The March 8 anniversary should be a moment of deep reflection on the horrendous conditions Haitian popular women have to endure: the violence of a machismo society, the heavy exploitation of a cruel economic system and the shame of a foreign military occupation. They are triple victims of the same logic.

Those facts - brutal and hard as they are - have the big advantage of making clear the objectives of the struggle and indentifying clearly the enemies.