Whatever anyone thinks of Wyclef Jean's bid for the presidency of Haiti, we can all agree on one thing: his potential running brought attention to the important elections in November for the devastated nation. Now, it seems the world is once again looking away. There is no news of the elections or information on the candidates running. So why should we still be interested? Because 53 women are running for Congress and Senate, and if elected, they could change the dynamic of the rebuilding of Haiti, end decades of corruption and turn the old Haitian system of politics upside down. It is not with the president but within the Parliament where the real power in Haiti lies.
The national elections are at the end of November and the truth is this: If more women win seats in Congress and Senate, it will change the political game in Haiti and be a model for other developing nations. A recent World Bank study found that an increase of women in government has been shown to decrease corruption. Other studies are showing that countries that have high percentages of women in leadership positions are more apt to focus on children's health and education, social justice and economic stability. A case in point is Rwanda post-genocide, which now has the highest percentage of women in the electorate and one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
The earthquake of January 12, 2010 severely affected Haiti's women's movement. Three women leaders, who played a key role in organizing around women's rights and making discrimination and gender-based violence visible, lost their lives during the earthquake. Their deaths, coupled with the destruction of the headquarters of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and of women's organizations, impaired the ability of women to regroup and make their voices heard in the discussion for the reconstruction of Haiti. While women's voices have not so far been heard, these voices have not been silent.
There are many other capable women working in the shadows to address women's issues, advocating for gender equality, and social and economic justice. It is important that these women, as well as emerging and young leaders, be identified and supported so that they can blossom, gain confidence and be provided with the opportunities to play a role in the reconstruction of Haiti.
There are currently 45 women running for Congress out of a total of 816 candidates (5 percent). There are 99 seats in Congress. Eight women are running for Senate out of a total of 95 candidates (8 percent). There are 30 seats in the senate. As of now, there are more than 70 different parties sitting in parliament, and they have traditionally voted on laws that were in line with the central government. If more women are elected, it is most likely that they will vote in a block, increasing legislation that will take into account women and children's issues, that includes the Haitian diaspora in the political and reconstruction process and anti-corruption laws. These female candidates represent a new generation of women leaders with the skills to advocate for social change, decentralization and local development, women's and children rights, their equal participation in economic and social development and active participation in the reconstruction of the country.
Women in Parliament will question the rules of the political game, set new rules and more transparent procedures, and influence legislative agendas in favor of social and economic transformation responsive to women's, children's and community needs. They will also influence the budget in favor of social investments and collectively take leadership in programming and implementing grassroots operations throughout the rebuilding process.
The exquisite handbag and accessory designer, Judith Leiber, saw the urgency when hearing of the millions of displaced, the increase in sexual violence in the camps, and the devastation of the women's movement. She stepped up immediately and came up with the idea to design and sell the "Don't Forget" pendant to support initiatives such as the women candidates' campaigns. The proceeds are going to support Femmes en Démocratie (FED), the Haitian arm of Vital Voices Global Partnership, based in Washington, D.C. FED, a non-partisan organization that dates back to 1999, works to empower Haitian women leaders. It has a vibrant network of more than 300 women including politicians, businesswomen, artisans and civil society leaders.
I have worked with the amazing founder of FED, Danielle St. Lot, over the last year and have met many of the women candidates -- I can assure you of their integrity and commitment to strengthening the role of women in Haiti's reconstruction, development and justice. I believe in their unflinching courage to bring everyone in their country a higher quality of life in the face of the "old boys' club" that has traditionally run Haiti. I am advocating for partners to help them on their journey because without immediate technical and financial resources, these fierce and dedicated women will have no chance to make that change.
On September 13, 2010, I attended the Women Donors Network (WDN) conference on Haiti where I showed a preview of the campaign video filmed and produced by Haitian-American photographer Marc Baptiste. WDN is a community where women multiply their energy, their strategic savvy and their philanthropic dollars to build a just and fair world. Immediately after the conference, after seeing the campaign video, WDN members stood up to give their financial and technical support to the women, who, by the way, represent 14 different political parties. The WDN thankfully does not have the bureaucracy of other large groups and NGOs, so it can help raise funds when they are needed most -- and for those of you interested in helping all women candidates in Haiti, that time is now.
You can view the English translated campaign video below. Watch to find out more about Vital Voices and how you can buy a pendant to support these magnificent women.
Click here to learn more about the pendant or to make a donation to support the women of Femmes en Démocratie.