Haitian feminist leader Myriam Merlet (1953-2010)
January 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
I regret never having heard of Myriam Merlet until her death because she sounds fabulous. Merlet, the Chief of Staff of the Ministry for Women in Haiti, died in the earthquake in Port Au Prince. She is remembered as a friend, a mother, and a fighter for Haiti, for women and social justice.
Merlet, a native to Haiti, left the country in the 1970s, fleeing from poverty and repression. She returned in 1986, and explains why in her powerful essay “The More People Dream” :
I was born in Haiti but I lived abroad until I was twenty-nine. There people tended to see Haiti through a series of clichés: Papa Doc, Baby Doc, black, illiterate, hungry. I had to always explain, “No, not Tahiti”.
I got my degree in economics from Canada and studied women’s issues, political sociology, and feminist theory. But while I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. I couldn’t see myself being forever a nigger in the United States, an immigrant in Canada, or a stranger in Europe. I felt the need to be part of something. This couldn’t be the black cause in the United Sates or the immigration cause in Canada. It could only be the cause of the Haitian people. Thus, I decided to return to Haiti.
In 2001, despite riots and coups, she brought The Vagina Monologues to the women and girls of Port Au Prince, raising the issue of violence against women and girls in a region where women and girls suffer from some of the worst gender-based violence in the world, and where rape was only made a national offense in 2005. She was an integral force in creating the Haiti Sorority Safe House in Port Au Prince, a women’s shelter for domestic violence survivors. She founded Enfofamn, an organization that raises awareness about women through media. And among her efforts as the Chief of Staff of the Ministry for Women, she got streets to be named after notable Haitian women who came before her. Merlet is also a published author on issues of race and gender.
Keep Merlet’s legacy alive. Natural disaster tends to hurt women and children disproportionately. Coupled with the news that Haiti has lost three of its most dynamic feminist leaders, there is reason for concern over the future well-being of women and girls in Haiti. At Campus Progress, I blogged about the importance of putting women at the center of disaster-relief organizing, and highlight the organizations that are doing just that.