A Conversation With Haitian Grasroots Women Leaders

Last week, one of N-Map’s partners, and fellow technology/human rights upstart, Digital Democracy, organized an extraordinary event in New York City — a live conversation with grassroots leaders from Port au Prince.  The event was part of the launch of a major initiative that we are undertaking with Digital Democracy, along with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, and Madre, to help grassroots women’s organizations fight against gender based violence after the earthquake.  The IJDH has already done extensive work on the rape epidemic — you find their report here.

It was an incredible event.  Digital Democracy are amazing organizers in addition to innovative activists, and managed to get over 70 people to attend the event, on a steamy, rainy weekday afternoon.   We used everyday technology — Skype — to listen to three courageous Haiti women tell their stories, to to have the opportunity to ask them some questions.

More below the fold.

To give you an idea of what these leaders are going through, here is a recap from Emily Jacobi, our colleague from Digital Democracy who coordinated the event from Port au Prince (the names of the leaders are redacted):

The women have had a tough week. As xxx explained, they’re now living in a safe house due to intimidation, far from their fellow members. And yesterday, there was a major protest not far from our office, and shots were heard. When I was in the middle of doing a training yesterday, we had to move to the back of the house, and the mood changed palpably. People were scared. The women I was training (including the three who spoke last night) told me they were feeling emotional. And then we learned what had happened – the police had shot and wounded some of the protesters. Scary stuff, as politics are heating up in advance of the election, and none of those in power seem to care about the needs of poor Haitians – ie the majority of the population.
Long story short, 45 minutes before the event, xxx and xxx disappeared, and I couldn’t find them anywhere. We called their phone but it rang at the office. I had no idea what to do if they didn’t show up in time. They returned at 6:25 (NY time) and looked so sad and tired. I asked if they were ready to talk and they asked if we could move it to the next day, because they were feeling very depressed about the protest (which happened where they used to live). I explained how many people were in NY, but said they didn’t have to do it if they didn’t feel right. They said, “well, we’re already here” and came into the room.
Once they saw how many people were there, they got more animated. And then, as you saw, they spoke for much longer than I asked them to, and were totally into it. At the end, they said they loved the questions, and the opportunity to tell their story. Lots of groups come and talk to them in Haiti and give them nothing – IRC has visited them 10 times but, thus far, nothing has come of it, and they’re still not listed as a service provider on the UN Subcluster list even though they see hundreds more women than most groups. But our coalition – Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, N-Map, Madre & Digital Democracy has consistently delivered comprehensive services to them, and, last night was a great example of how we treat them as an equal rather than some poor group that needs our help. They send their thanks to all of you for bringing so many folks in to hear their story.

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